Breast Cancer

1. What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is initiated when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control, invade the tissues nearby and potentially spread to other parts of the body. Malignant cancer tumors are harmful to the human body, but not all cancers are malignant. Some cancers are benign in that they do not spread or threaten life. Any breast tissue can form a cancer, but usually it comes from either the ducts or the glands.

2. What are the symptoms of breast cancer ?

The early stages of breast cancer may not have any symptoms. Diagnosis usually begins with a painless, one-sided lump which may discovered by the woman, her partner or her physician. In recent years, diagnosis has occurred as a result of suspicious findings from a routine screening mammogram accompanied by no symptoms. In more advanced cases, changes to the contour of the affected breast may occur.

As a tumor grows in size, it can produce a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Lumps or thickening in the breast or underarm
  • Change in size or shape of the breast
  • Nipple discharge or nipple turning inward
  • Redness or scaling of the skin or nipple
  • Ridges or pitting of the breast skin.
3. Who is at risk for breast cancer?

Non controllable risk factors for breast cancer include :

  • Being a woman. Men can get breast cancer as well but at a lower rate. It is about 100 times more common in women than in men.
  • Being older. The chance of getting breast cancer increases as women age. Nearly 8 out of 10 breast cancers are found in women over the age of 50.
  • Starting to have menstrual periods at a young age(under twelve). The later the age of the first menstrual cycle, the lower the risk.
  • Being older at the time of the last menstrual cycle (early fifties or older) confers a higher risk when compared with women who experience menopause at a younger age (late forties or earlier)
  • Never having children or having them when you are older than 30. Full-term pregnancy at an early age (teens to early twenties) lowers the risk. Being pregnant more than once and at an early age reduces breast cancer risk even more.
  • Family history. Having a mother, sister, aunt, cousin, grandmother or daughter with breast cancer.
  • Having a previous history of breast cancer. A woman with cancer in one breast has a greater chance of getting a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.
  • Having had radiation therapy to the chest region.
  • Having a genetic mutation.
  • Being a Caucasian. White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer than are African-American or Asian women.

Controllable risk factors for breast cancer :

  • Being overweight increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. However, it does not increase the risk of premenopausal breast cancer and may even associated with a slightly reduced risk of breast cancer in younger women.
  • Using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk, but this impact has been reported to disappear shortly after hormone use is discontinued.
  • Taking birth control pills.
  • Drinking 2 to 5 alcoholic drinks a day.
  • Not exercising. One study found that as little as 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 and a half hours per week of brisk walking reduced the risk by 18 %. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more.
  • Treatment with diethylstilbestrol (DES). In the past, some pregnant women were given the drug DES to lower their chances of miscarriage. Recent studies have shown that these women have a slightly increased risk of getting breast cancer.
4. What are the links between diet and breast cancer?
  • Alcohol
    Women who drink alcohol have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who don’t. Alcohol consumption during early adulthood may be more of a risk factor than at a later age.
  • Fiber
    Insoluble grain fiber delays the onset of mammary cancer. Consuming a diet high in fiber is best achieved by switching from white rice to brown rice and from baked goods made with white flour or mixed flours to 100 % whole wheat flour.
  • Vegetarianism
    Female vegetarians have been reported to have lower estrogen levels compared with meat-eating women, possibly explaining a lower incidence of breast cancer.
  • Fruits and Vegetables
    High consumption of vegetables was associated with a 25 % decreased risk of breast cancer and high consumption of fruit was associated with a 6 % reduction of breast cancer when compared with low consumption.
  • Fish
    Fish eaters have been reported to have a low risk of breast cancer. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are thought by some researchers to protect against cancer.
  • Soy
    High soy consumption is generally associated with a low incidence of breast cancer. Similarly, women who frequently consume tofu have been reported to be at low risk.
  • Sugar Intake
    Preliminary studies have reported associations between an increased intake of sugar-containing foods and an increased risk of breast cancer.
5. What are the links between lifestyle and breast cancer?
  • Exercise
    Girls who engage in a significant amount of exercise have been reported to be less likely to get breast cancer as adults. Although some doctors speculate that exercise in preadolescent girls might reduce the risk of eventually getting breast cancer by reducing the number of menstrual cycles and therefore exposure to estrogen, these effects may occur only in girls engaging in very strenuous exercise. Women who exercise have also been reported to have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
  • Smoking
    Some studies have found an association between smoking and an increased risk of breast cancer, including exposure to secondhand smoke. Exposure to cigarette smoke during childhood appears to be most likely to increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • The mind-body connection
    The risk of breast cancer has been reported to be higher in women who have experienced major depression in the years preceding diagnosis. Exposure to severely stressful events such as death of a spouse or divorce increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.
  • Excess weight
    Being overweight increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. It does not increase the risk of premenopausal breast cancer and may even be associated with a slightly reduced risk of breast cancer in younger women.
6. What are the links between nutritional supplements and breast cancer?
  • Vitamin E — Tocotrienols
    Tocotrienols have demonstrated the most significant potential in not only reducing the incidence of breast cancer, but also inhibiting existing breast cancer cell propagation.
    Tocotrienols have been shown to inhibit growth of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells by as much as 50 % in test cultures. In contrast, many studies have found that alpha tocopherol does not influence proliferation. Even in those studies where alpha tocopherol was shown to be effective against some breast cancer cell lines, the amount required for 50 % growth inhibition was more than 20 times higher than growth inhibitory concentrations of the tocotrienols.
  • Vitamin D
    Breast cancer rates have been reported to be relatively high in geographical areas with low exposure to sunlight. Sunlight triggers the formation of vitamin D, which can be altered by the liver and kidneys into a highly active hormone. This form of vitamin D causes cellular differentiation which is essentially the opposite of cancer.
  • Coenzyme Q10
    French researchers have reported that the lower the blood level of CoQ10 in breast cancer patients, the worse the chance of remaining free of disease.
  • Fiber
    Preliminary evidence suggests that high fiber consumption may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines for early breast cancer detection.

The ACS recommends the following guidelines for finding breast cancer early in women without symptoms:

Mammogram : Women aged 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. While mammograms can miss some cancers, they are still a very good way to find breast cancer.

Clinical breast exam : Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular exam by a health expert preferably every 3 years. After the age of 40, women should have a breast exam by a health expert every year. It might be a good idea to have a CBE shortly before a mammogram. Women can use the exam to learn what their own breasts feel like.

The most important thing is to see your doctor right away if you notice any of these changes : a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or the nipple turning inward, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk.