Breast Cancer Report
Considering October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, all women should read this report to further understand this disease and to utilize the suggestions therein as an informative and preventative measure.
Breast cancer begins in the breast, and this references an area that goes as high as the collarbone and can reach from tissue under the arm to the center of the chest. The makeup of the breast is a combination of fatty tissue, milk ducts, glands, and lobules. Lobules are glands that produce milk.
The most common types of cancers in the breast are usually found in the lobules or the milk ducts. When this type of cancer is described as being 'in situ' it means that the cancer remains contained and has not started to invade any of the surrounding tissue.
Ductal Carcinoma in situ: When the cancer is located in the milk duct lining but has not spread. This is a very treatable form of the cancer.
Lobular Carcinoma in situ: When the cancer is located in a lobule but has not spread. Some in the medical community consider this to be just an early warning of possible cancer while others feel it is cancer but highly treatable as well.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: When the cancer that begins in the lining of the duct has broken free to the surrounding tissue.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: When the cancer has started in one of the milk producing lobules and has broken through to surrounding tissue.
Other rarer forms of breast cancer include: Sarcoma, that involves the connective tissue of the breast; Paget's disease, that concerns the nipple and the dark tissue surrounding the nipple; or inflammatory breast cancer, that blocks lymph vessels near the surface of skin tissue and manifests itself by causing an inflammation. Recurrent breast cancer is cancer that has returned and may have developed in some other tissue or organ of the body.
Research throughout many centuries has slowly developed a better understanding of what causes breast cancer and how it can be treated. Back in the 17th century, the medical community was beginning to gain a clear idea of how the body's circulatory system worked. From there they realized that when a cancer developed in the breast, it was capable of quickly invading the rest of the body through the lymph nodes that are located adjacent to the breasts and under the arms.
To halt the spread of this cancer, it became the practice to not only remove the affected breast tissue but the lymph nodes as well. There are recorded cases of mastectomies being performed in the later part of the 19th century. Going forward into more modern times, they have developed a number of different options for treatments.
Though the techniques utilized have greatly advanced, the principle procedure remains to first remove the cancer surgically and then follow it up with an option of treatments that may involve chemotherapy, radiation, and drug therapy. However in some cases the cancer may be treated without the surgery.
It has been noted that the occurrence this cancer has greatly increased from the latter part of the twentieth century on. Extensive research continues into whether this is connected to the increasingly toxic environment we live in. The need to understand the causes and prevent the disease in the first place grows ever stronger today.
What Are The Genetic Factors
In the battle against breast cancer researchers have looked into two main areas in search of an answer as to what is causing this disease. One factor they believe plays an important role is genetics. The other is related to our environment and the increasing levels of toxins that play a major role in our modern age.
In helping women to keep aware of their personal risk factors for breast cancer, organizations have listed an individual at a higher risk if they have a close relative that has had breast cancer. This could be a mother, sister, aunt or cousin that is a part of a family blood line.
There are presently two genetic markers that indicate a vulnerability to breast cancer. They are listed as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These are clearly designated Breast Cancer Gene 1 and Breast Cancer Gene 2. As a rule, most people have two copies of these genes in their cells.
Their normal function is to maintain the health of the breast cells to keep them developing, and to ward against the possibility of cancer. They do this by producing a protein that, in effect, controls normal cell growth. However, if these genes have abnormalities or mutations, a vulnerability is created that could open the door to breast cancer to allow for an abnormal 'growth' to go unchecked.
The possibility of inheriting an abnormality can come about even if only one parent has it. It is important to keep in mind however, that for most breast cancers this particular issue is not the established cause. In fact, it is estimated that it may only account for ten percent.
Without taking a specific test to verify any genetic abnormality, it is possible to assess the probability of its existence if a person has close blood relatives on either side of the family that have had breast cancer before the age of fifty; if the cancer was in both breasts; if there is an instance of one person having both ovarian and breast cancer; or if a male member of the family has also suffered from breast cancer.
It is good to note however, that if the genetic disposition exists, it is possible that the risk of one's children inheriting it will diminish over time if family members marry others who do not carry the abnormal genes.
Again, it is important to bear in mind that even if there is a genetic vulnerability, it does not necessarily indicate that a person will get breast cancer. There are many other factors that will weigh in as well, such as the lifestyle one leads, the toxicity of the environment, and the fact that there are other genes that continue to work to protect the health of the body.
Whether one decides to pursue genetic testing or not, research indicates that most women who get breast cancer do not come from a family with a history of it. The knowledge that it is not a conclusive factor and that there are a number of other issues involved can give hope that, whatever our personal circumstances may indicate, there is much we can pursue in the way of preventative measures.
What Are the Environmental and Other Risk Factors
Although there is extensive on-going research, it still remains difficult to pinpoint what may be an exact cause for any one individual developing breast cancer. When the medical community asserts that a number of factors may contribute to this disease, it still remains the case that many women who develop it do not fall into risky categories other than being a woman and perhaps getting older.
Thus, when it comes to considering the effect of our environment or other issues in developing breast cancer, it is important to bear in mind that this information is provided to allow us to get an overall view of what may be contributing factors and how we can respond to do all within our ability to remain healthy and cancer free.
It is well known that our modern age has seen the ever growing accumulation of toxins in our environment. A large number of these toxins are regarded as carcinogens. It would seem a logical conclusion that these toxins would be affecting our health. Very often though, there lacks the clinical proof that equates one with the other. This is partly due to the fact that as unique individuals, we are all affected in different manners and that coupled with varying lifestyles and genetics, it can be hard to pinpoint the causal effect.
Nonetheless, common sense tells us that we should be watchful and try to limit our exposure to items that are carcinogenic. This would include such things as cigarette smoke and strong chemicals such as pesticides. It would also entail examining our diet to avoid overly processed foods that contain a number of additives.
Other risk factors include:
Radiation. According to the Mayo Clinic, if someone has had radiation treatments to the chest while a child, this makes them more susceptible to breast cancer.
Being overweight is thought to play a role especially if the weight is gained after menopause.
If a woman starts her period at a young age, or if she doesn't start menopause till after she is fifty-five, this has been shown to put her into a higher risk category.
Treating menopause with hormone therapy, which is receiving estrogen and progesterone for four years or more, is also considered a high risk factor.
Smoking and being constantly exposed to second hand smoke can play a role.
Too much alcohol has been cited as a risk and it is recommended that a limit of only one drink per day is appropriate.
Getting older seems to increase your chances as statistics show that most of the breast cancers seem to occur in women over fifty, and the probability increases even more dramatically thereafter.
In today's complex world it can truly be said that just being a woman places one at risk for breast cancer. However, the goal in researching and trying to gain a better understanding of the causes and risks is to find ways to be proactive in keeping ourselves healthy and cancer free. The more knowledge we gain, the more we will be able to make the necessary decisions and positive changes in our life.
Being Alert to the Signs and Symptoms
The importance of understanding the signs and symptoms that may alert us to breast cancer cannot be overstated. By detecting cancer in its early stage there are more options open to us for treatment and a stronger likelihood of being cured.
The most common indicator that something is not right is if you discover a lump or a thickening in the breast tissue. Since the breast tissue can normally feel lumpy or a little more tender and thicker at certain times of the month, this can make it a bit more difficult in determining if something is unusual.
Also, it is good to keep in mind that, by far, most breast lumps aren't cancerous. Besides the changes that can occur during the menstrual cycle, there are also changes that naturally occur with pregnancy. There can be benign issues such as cysts or fibroadenomas as well as bruising and swelling from an injury or infection.
Therefore, to be able to detect something unusual starts with knowing what your breasts are normally like in appearance. This entails standing in front of a mirror and taking note of your breasts size and shape and the way they fall against your body. You need to stand with your hands on your hips and then place your hands above your head. Be sure to move so that you can assess how they appear from side views as well.
Every month you will need to perform a breast self-exam. It is recommended that you pick a time when the breasts are not swollen or tender due to the hormonal fluctuations of your period. Usually a week following your period is a good time. Doing it at the same time each month will help reinforce what feels normal. For women who are menopausal, it is still helpful to pick the same time each month.
If you feel that something is new or seems changed, this will be the first sign. It may be apparent in the way your breast falls or it may only be in feeling it through the touch of your fingers. It should be noted that usually a cancerous lump will not feel painful.
In addition, there are other associated symptoms such as: the nipple looking indented, a clear or bloody discharge from the nipple, the skin of the breast being pitted and red or even an area of indentation of the skin of the breast as a whole.
If you are not a women in menopause it may be helpful to wait another cycle to see if the change is permanent but do not wait if you are concerned or worried that something is not right with your body. Be sure to keep a mental record or write down anything that might prove helpful to your doctor in his examination.
Also bear in mind that eight out of ten times an unusual lump will prove to be benign. It is not easy to face the issue of breast cancer, and it is necessary to keep a close watch on a regular basis. By doing so, you are given the opportunity to detect any unusual sign.
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it will no doubt be a very stressful time. From the start, your physician or specialist will take the time to explain the different treatment options that are available to you and to determine what will be the best treatment plan for your circumstances.
The type of cancer and stage will dictate the best course of action. While it will vary for each person, quite often it follows a course of surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation or a combination of both.
Radiation is the use of high energy x-rays to target and kill cancer cells. It is usually given after the main part of the cancer has been removed, and it is meant to catch any cells in the breast area that weren't removed and to stop the cancer from spreading or recurring. For lumps that may be larger in nature, the doctor may recommend radiation before the surgery to help reduce the size of the tumor.
Radiation works well to destroy cancer cells because the nature of these cells is to reproduce and grow rapidly out of control. This actually makes them more vulnerable in a way in that they are less organized and not able to bounce back and repair themselves, unlike stable healthy cells that work to recover and repair more efficiently.
If radiation is the only additional treatment that has been recommended, it will normally follow three to four weeks after you have had your surgery. If the doctor recommends chemotherapy, then the radiation will follow afterwards. The radiation is done at a specific center and on an out-patient basis. It usually occurs five days a week, and lasts around five to six weeks consecutively.
The treatments themselves are painless and the total time is approximately a half hour in duration. They are computerized for pinpoint accuracy. However, since this is a powerful means of targeting the cancer cells, the effect can be that near the end of the treatment the patient may experience extra fatigue. The skin of the breast can also begin to feel tender, a bit swollen, and red as well. The nurses and technicians involved will be able to give pertinent information on how to care for this condition.
Because radiation treatment can have a stronger effect on some individuals and can cause, on occasion, some serious side effects such as arm swelling, damage to the lung area, or affect the appearance or consistency of breast tissue, it is important to assess and weigh this option as a treatment. If possible, it is recommended that you schedule a visit with the radiation oncologist to determine if an adjusted form or more focused form of treatment is available to limit the risks.
As with any decision regarding medical treatments, it is worthwhile to take the time to discuss with others the outcomes of their circumstances and to gather as much information on the subject as possible. This, at times, is not an easy thing to do, especially when faced with the seriousness of this issue and the accompanying fatigue. However, it will allow you to make the best decision possible, and will no doubt add to your confidence for a positive outcome.
In the fight against breast cancer, one of the foremost treatments applied is that of chemotherapy. This is the use of strong drugs to destroy cancer cells in the body. It is termed a 'systemic treatment' because it will affect the body's entire system. Although it is usually given after surgery to help catch and destroy any cancer cells that have left the original area and traveled throughout the body, it can also be administered beforehand and used to help diminish the size of some of the larger tumors.
Chemotherapy has been an effective treatment against breast cancer because these types of cells are rapidly dividing. Because of this, they lack the needed stability and fuel that would normally help a cell to repair itself. Healthy cells have a better chance of bouncing back.
To determine if a patient will require chemotherapy as a part of their breast cancer treatment plan, a doctor will look at the characteristics of the type of cancer, the size of the tumor, and whether or not the cancer may have already spread from the original area.
Chemotherapy is usually a combination of different drugs that is determined by each individual situation. This is because different drugs will work on breast cancer in different ways. The goal is to give the most effective treatment at this initial stage. It is most often administered intravenously but, at times, it can be given in pill form. This is done on an out-patient basis. The visits to the treatment center will range between four to eight times and will last anywhere from three to six months.
Though much progress has been made in lessening the side effects of this powerful treatment, the patient will nonetheless experience some of the following: hair loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sores in the mouth area, diarrhea, aching in the muscles and joints, menopausal symptoms, and some memory problems. The nurses and staff that form the team that is caring for you will be able to offer much help in dealing with this discomfort. They will do all they can to help you understand everything that is happening in your system.
It may help to understand that part of the problem stems from the fact that certain areas of our body have healthy rapidly dividing cells. This is a protective part of our natural system. Since chemotherapy works on these types of cells the side effects will show up in these areas, such as the mouth, hair, nails, vagina and intestines. Thankfully, these areas repair themselves well and once the chemotherapy has been completed, they should return to normal.
In some cases chemotherapy can have more serious side effects such as infertility. It is important to have an open and frank conversation with your oncologist in order to make an informed decision about your overall treatment plan. There is no doubt that great progress is being made to ensure that anyone undergoing this treatment will be able to do so as comfortably as possible.
For any woman facing the prospect of breast cancer surgery, there is naturally concern over how extensive it will be. It is reassuring to know that great efforts have been made to fine tune the surgical approach. The goal of modern surgery is to preserve and protect as much of the affected breast and tissue as possible.
Another important aspect is the fact that the patient is now more involved in the decision making process when it concerns the overall treatment plan. There is no doubt that this can help the patient feel that she has a little more control over her situation.
For many women, the fear of surgery and the potential loss of a breast has kept them from acting on any concerns they have and seeking the help of a doctor. It is important to keep in mind that the earlier the detection of cancer is made, the more surgical options available.
In discussing with your physician the different options, the point to remember is that each case is unique. He will be looking at the type of cancer you may have; is it fast moving or slow? Has it shown unpredictable characteristics? He will have to determine what stage the cancer has reached. There are basically four stages and they also vary according to the type of cancer.
The two main types of surgery offered are:
Lumpectomy: This is a removal of the lump or tumor and some of the tissue that surrounds it. This is also known as breast preservation surgery or a partial mastectomy. Depending on the size of the tumor, the amount that is removed can vary greatly. Talk to your physician in order to obtain a clear idea of what to expect and what kind of scar will remain.
As a rule, radiation is used as a follow-up treatment that is meant to ensure that any cancer cells that remain in the surrounding tissue are eliminated as well. This will usually run from five to seven weeks. If it is determined that chemotherapy is also required, the radiation treatments will follow afterwards.
Mastectomy: This is the total removal of the breast, although over the years it has been refined in order to spare as much of the breast as possible. The extent of the surgery and whether or not any lymph nodes will need to be removed as well is dependent upon how widespread the cancer has become. This will also determine whether or not the surgery will be followed up by radiation treatments.
Some women opt to have breast reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy. This can help in adjusting to this radical operation. Others may wait months or even years to do so. The advantage for some in waiting is that it allows them time to gather their strength to make the necessary decisions involved. However, it may also be necessary to wait if chemotherapy and radiation is required.
Alternative Treatments and Complementary Medicine
When faced with a diagnosis of cancer, there are many people who choose to pursue alternative treatments. It is important to distinguish this from complementary medicine in that alternative options are taken in place of conventional medicine and complementary medicine is meant to work along with and enhance conventional methods.
In choosing to seek out an alternative approach to healing, it must be noted that this is a serious step and the individual should give it much thought and research. Unfortunately, there isn't too much information in the form of scientific studies that can provide the needed support to indicate whether a course of treatment is safe and effective.
Nonetheless, given some of the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy it is understandable that some women choose this path after they have had the necessary surgery. It may be difficult, however, to find a supportive physician who will continue to monitor your progress. If this should prove to be the case, it is recommended that a woman seek out a reputable health care professional that works in the field of holistic healing.
Most alternative treatments require a dramatic change in the way one lives. It will require commitment and discipline to achieve the best results. Many programs require a detoxification period followed by a healthful regime that includes better eating, supplementary vitamins, herbal potions, breathing exercises, massage therapy, acupuncture, and meditation. There will no doubt be any number of products offered from others who have claimed successful results. While caution and research are vital, and there can be no guarantees given, no one can dispute that there have been some remarkable results with some of these non-standard approaches.
Complementary medicine, while working along with the conventional treatments taken, does not usually come with a lot of scientific grounding and research. As a whole, it is not used to treat the illness per se, but rather as a method to relieve some of the side effects of cancer treatments and to improve the quality of life overall.
Some of the recommended therapies involve acupuncture and acupressure to relieve pain and stress, vitamin and herbal remedies to help build the immune system, visualization to empower the body to fight the disease, meditation to control pain and to focus on positive thoughts, aromatherapy to relieve pain and stress, and yoga to help strengthen the body overall.
In pursuing complementary therapies, coordinate with your doctor and inform him of anything that may have the possibility of interacting negatively with the treatments he is giving you. As an example, Vitamin C is a powerful aid to boost the immune system but it can work to worsen the side effects of the chemotherapy drug methotrexate. Therefore, it may mean that you would need to wait until your treatments have concluded before adding it to your regimen.
With the growing understanding of the benefits of these different approaches to healing, more and more doctors are open to the patient's efforts in this regard. In fact some standard hospitals are adding alternative medicine wings to complement their procedures.
In approaching your doctor with any idea, be prepared with the research you have conducted and be willing to take the time to discuss them frankly. While some doctors may not entirely agree with a reported result, they will at least acknowledge that the patient benefits more often than not from an overall improvement in the quality of their life.
Preventative Steps in the Fight Against Breast Cancer
While the medical community cannot say definitively what causes breast cancer they believe that it comes from a combination of inherited and internal factors coupled with external or environmental factors.
However, too often it seems, we take good health for granted until we are faced with a health crisis or a life altering disease and then we are forced into trying to find a cure for ourselves as well as making the commitment to live in a healthier manner.
How much better off would we be if we begin taking preventative steps now to avoid getting breast cancer. In doing so, we are taking a proactive stance against this terrible disease. But if we don't know what the exact cause is, how can we fight it? Well, statistically, researchers have been able to find patterns for individuals who may be at higher risk for breast cancer. While it doesn't mean that they will develop this disease, it does indicate that there are definite areas to be watched.
Here are some recommendations:
Keep one's weight within healthy boundaries. Researchers have found a link between obesity and the occurrence of breast cancer. This connection is more marked with women who gain weight later in life especially following menopause.
Limit daily alcohol intake. There is a strong connection between breast cancer and too much drinking. It doesn't seem to matter what the alcohol is. It is recommended to limit one's intake to one drink a day. Or, if you feel that you are in a higher risk category, to avoid it altogether.
Stay physically active. The human body functions best when it is used, and healthy oxygen intake can do wonders for the immune system.
Utilize more olive oil. Olive oil contains oleic acid that appears to work to suppress the oncogene in breast cancer.
Eat plenty of good fiber. It is recommended between twenty and thirty grams daily. It seems that fiber may keep excess estrogen from circulating in the body. Good fiber is found in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. When possible buy organically grown food as this will limit the intake of pesticides which have been linked to cancer as well.
Drink plenty of water each day. Not only does it help the fiber to move through the body, but it helps cleanse the body of toxins.
Incorporate more flaxseed in your diet. Flaxseed contains lignan This appears to reduce the body's production of estrogen and lowers the amount circulating in the system.
Stay away from over-processed foods and hormone-enhanced dairy products. Again, searching out organically grown products will allow you to have more of your favorite things.
Get proper rest and become more active. Engage in activities or hobbies that build up positive feelings and feedback.
Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
It is important to point out that the World Health Organization has stated that up to eighty percent of cancers are believed to be caused by toxins in our environment; the air we breathe and the food we eat. There is also concern over excess low frequency radiation that comes from cellular phones, some household appliances, and electromagnetic fields.
While no guarantees can be given by taking these preventative measures, common sense tells us that we can do much to help build up our immune systems and help our bodies fight breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Support
When engaged in fighting any disease, one of the vital components of being successful is having the loving support of those closest to us. You will find that the medical community is very kind and caring. They have come to understand the overwhelming emotions that you are experiencing as a breast cancer patient, and they will be there to give you guidance and to point you in the direction of other support groups.
In addition, over the past few decades, breast cancer survivors have formed a tremendous network that brings compassionate understanding and support to people facing this illness. Many whom you meet in your daily routine may open up to you and offer helpful ideas and tips on how to cope.
Without a doubt though, the greatest support can come from your family members. It may be overwhelming for them to learn you have been diagnosed with breat cancer, but it is important to be as open and frank about it as you can. This will help pave the way for the adjustments that are ahead.
Together, your journey through this illness will begin by gaining as much knowledge as you can about the disease and the treatments that are available to you. When the treatment plan is decided upon, there will be the necessary visits and follow-ups.
Having a companion to talk with can do wonders to relieve the stress and worry. It can also be helpful to have someone there who can listen to help you retain whatever guidelines or instructions that are given. They may also help you to recall any questions that you may have wanted to ask but have forgotten.
They can assist you in getting to and from your appointments. Friends or family members can be a wonderful support system if they are ready and available to pick up medicines from the pharmacy, help with cleaning or laundry, or provide prepared meals.
Even after you have completed your breast cancer treatment and have been given a clean bill of health, you will feel altered by your experience. You may even have some on-going anxiety. Having friends that keep in contact and who listen will be a blessing that will keep you on a positive path.
In trying to keep a positive outlook, find activities that are uplifting to you. A walk in the park, a drive in the country, or even treating yourself to some new outfit may lift your spirits. It is important to view your body as healthy and your life ready to live to the fullest.
Ultimately, you will be the final arbiter of what works for you. Eventually, you may be able to reach out to guide and help someone else through this very difficult illness, as well as give them the benefit of your deep understanding.