Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women. The American Cancer Society currently estimates that 1 in 8 women are affected by breast cancer in their lifetime and may ultimately be fatal in some (American Cancer Society, 2022). The condition originates from a malignant tumor which first develops in the breast and later spreads to the rest of the body if left untreated. Although cancer has long been known to be among the most devastating health conditions to affect individuals, policymakers have recently raised concern over its proliferation and now consider it a serious public health threat. This article will, therefore, provide an in-depth discussion of cancer by providing an overview of the historical background, causes, symptoms, and strategies adopted to prevent it today.
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Breast Cancer History/Background
Over the past centuries, different societies have known about breast cancer and actively sought to develop feasible solutions to counter the disease. The ancient Egyptians first described it in 1600 BCE, which was quickly followed by reports published by the Greeks and Romans on this particular subject. It was, however, in the 17th century that surgical procedures were developed to address cases of breast cancer based on improved knowledge of the condition. Further advancements were later witnessed in the 19th century after advancements in our understanding of the human breast and its connection to the broader lymphatic system. This resulted in the development of mastectomy procedures and a series of advanced surgical procedures and therapies designed to stop the growth and spread of cancer tumors.
Advances in cancer research in the 1970s led to the introduction of mammography for early detection of breast cancer cases, followed by novel procedures such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and radiation therapy. These developments have greatly improved the prognosis of a sizable population of cancer patients and are currently linked to an increase in cases of remission during cancer treatment. The low-dose X-rays deployed during routine mammography have now enabled doctors to easily detect evidence of damage or defects in the breast, usually a sign of cancer. Today, doctors estimate that individuals who get regular mammograms can reduce the overall risk of dying from cancer by 30% which is why it is normally recommended by healthcare providers. The sophistication of cancer treatment technology has also resulted in targeted therapies such as trastuzumab designed to selectively target cancer cells while sparing healthy cells to reduce negative side effects (Harbeck et al., 2021). Despite these advancements, the proliferation of breast cancer in society remains a significant issue of concern that has prompted experts to declare it a public health concern.
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Today, healthcare experts are unanimous in the view that the exact cause of cancer is unknown. However, they have identified several risk factors predisposing individuals to the disease.
- Advance in age: An individual’s age has often been identified as a common risk factor associated with cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer, therefore, increases with age, which is why it mostly occurs in women over the age of 50.
- Family history: Cancer experts have also associated the condition in families with a history of the disease. Women in a family with a history of breast cancer are thus at a higher risk of developing the disease in the future.
- Hormonal factors: Early menstruation has often been cited as a common risk factor for developing breast cancer. This risk is even higher among women who have undergone hormone replacement therapy or had late menopause.
- Lifestyle factors: An individual’s lifestyle can also determine whether or not they develop cancer within their lifetime. Factors such as high alcohol consumption, obesity, and limited physical activity have all been identified as significantly increasing the risk of developing the disease.
It is noteworthy to acknowledge that while we don’t have control over risk factors such as age and gender, several steps can be taken to reduce the overall risk of developing breast cancer. These include maintaining a healthy diet, reducing alcohol consumption, regularly engaging in physical activity, and avoiding unnecessary radiation exposure (Sasco et al., 2017). Moreover, this should be accompanied by regular breast cancer screening for early detection, especially among women over the age of 50 and those with a family history of cancer.
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Breast Cancer Symptoms
Breast cancer can be identified through a series of symptoms commonly associated with the disease. Although symptoms may vary from one individual to another, the following are some of the most common manifestations of the disease.
- The presence of a lump in the breast or around the underarm area.
- Sudden change in the shape, size, and symmetry of breasts.
- Nipple retraction and the presence of discharge.
- Dermatological changes characterized by dimpling or puckering.
- Pain and discomfort around the breast and nipple.
Awareness of each of the aforementioned symptoms may go a long way in promoting early detection and better treatment outcomes. The American Cancer Society (ACM) currently advises women to perform regular breast self-exams and exams performed by their respective healthcare providers (National Comprehensive Cancer Network, 2022). Early detection is the key to success in breast cancer treatment which is why it is crucial to contact your healthcare professional to schedule a doctor’s appointment if you notice changes in breast tissue.
Although cancer still has no known cure, several key steps can be taken to prevent the disease. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy body mass given that there is a direct correlation between obesity and breast cancer.
- Limiting alcohol consumption since recent studies indicate that high alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Breastfeeding babies for more than a year lowers the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Getting regular mammograms for early detection of breast cancer.
- Engaging experts in genetic counseling to determine identify whether or not one has a genetic mutation increases the risk of developing
- Making drastic lifestyle changes which may include changing one’s diet, exercise regimen, and attitudes regarding alcohol consumption. This will transform an individual’s trajectory in life, concerning living a healthier life leading to better choices (Howlader et al., 2014).
At the present moment, breast cancer is a serious disease that affects many women from all walks of life. While the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, several risk factors have been identified. Women can take steps to reduce their risk of breast cancer, including maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, breastfeeding, having regular mammograms, and considering genetic counseling if they have a family history of breast cancer. Early detection and treatment are key to improving the prognosis of breast cancer patients.