It’s been called the “C” word, likening it to a curse better left unsaid. Cancer strikes fear in our hearts but when it comes to breast cancer in particular, there’s room for hope as researchers draw closer to another “C” word: Cure.
What is Breast Cancer?
According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF), healthy body cells grow, divide, and die, regularly replaced by new ones, but cancer cells have other plans. They are abnormal in that they continue to grow— uncontrollably. Cancers are named for their primary location (the place they are first found). Sometimes they group together to form a mass known as a tumor. They can also travel, invading other parts of the body, spreading or metastasizing. Breasts are made of fatty tissue containing thousands of lobules, which produce milk in pregnant women. Breasts also contain mammary ducts designed to carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple. Cancer can occur in the lobules (lobular carcinoma) or the mammary ducts (ductal carcinoma).
Who gets it and why?
One in nine Canadian women will be affected by breast cancer during their lifetime, which translates to 25,000 women (and 220 men) diagnosed in 2015. Five thousand of those women will not survive; sixty of the men, according to the Canadian Cancer Steering Committee on Cancer statistics.
A full one in four (or 25%) of cancers diagnosed in women are breast cancer, making it the most common cancer diagnosis. After lung cancer it remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, yet there is good news. In this country the five-year survival rate is a very encouraging 88 percent, meaning that percentage of women diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago are still living. Thanks to earlier detection through mammography screening and advances in that screening, along with new and improved treatment options, deaths from breast cancer have decreased by 44 percent since they peaked in 1986.
Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men because we have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, thought to trigger breast cancer cells, WebMD, suggests. Other risk factors include gene mutations. Women who test positive for mutations BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, are 45 to 65 % more likely to develop breast cancer. If a close family relative develops breast cancer, you have an increased risk. Women who’ve had radiation are at risk as well as those who have hormone replacement therapy for more than five years after menopause.
According to CBCF, women who begin menstruation early (before 12 years of age) or go into menopause late (after age 55) are at a slightly increased risk of breast cancer because their bodies are exposed to estrogen longer. Meanwhile women who have given birth (the younger, the better) enjoy a slightly decreased risk. Most of our estrogen comes from our ovaries but after menopause we get the majority from fat tissue so being overweight is also a risk factor. Finally, our risk increases as we get older.
Reduce Your Risks and Live Your Life with Joy
CBCF supports precautionary principles to help keep breast cancer at bay. Studies suggest 17 % of breast cancers in North America could be prevented with healthier body weights alone. A nutritious diet and regular exercise should be part of your plan. Smoking increases cancer risk as does alcohol, both known carcinogens. Try to limit your exposure to chemicals at home and the workplace (in items such as cosmetics and cleaning agents, for example) and use glass wear rather than plastics when storing, microwaving, and eating foods. In particular, CBCF recommends avoiding plastics labeled #3 (PVC), #6 (polystyrene), and #7 (polycarbonate).
Know your breasts. How do they normally look and feel? If you note any changes like puckering or dimpling of the skin, unusual discharge, rash or crusting from the nipples, lumps in the armpit area or in the breasts that don’t go away, don’t move, or are hard or irregular in shape, see your doctor. Learn about early screening. For more information, visit cbcf.org.
Finally, have fun - Happy people live longer! That’s right! studies show, time and again, stress is a killer… So —laugh, love, live—with as much merriment as possible and a little frivolity, too!