I am Dr. Chukwudi Nwogu MD, a General Practitioner with a special interest in Oncology (study of Cancer) and Neurosurgery. My interest in Oncology sparked off during my Internship where I watched many people get plucked off at their prime due to this scourge – Cancer.
Today, we would be doing a quick preview of breast cancer with emphasis on: risk factors and screening tests. The aim is to equip people with the right data so that they can make informed decisions which are compatible with life. Early detection and treatment where applicable.
National Center for Health Statistics. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1973-1995. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 1998.
- What is Cancer?
- What is Breast Cancer?
- Epidemiology of Breast Cancer
- Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
- Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a disease where some normal cells of the body become abnormal, may grow (multiply) rapidly and develop a tendency to spread, ultimately killing the organism.
What is Breast Cancer (BCA)?
Breast Cancer is a disease where some normal breast cells become abnormal, may grow (multiply) rapidly and develop a tendency to spread, ultimately killing the person.
Breast Cancer Facts
- BCA is the most commonly diagnosed Cancer in Women
- BCA is the second cause of cancer-related death in Women (this is US data, it is the third in the UK and the first in developing Countries like Nigeria, Kenya).
- BCA is also present in men. It accounts for about 1% of cases; this means that if there are 100 people with BCA, 1 will be a Man. So, Men take note! It occurs in you too.
A Risk factor is anything that can increase your chances of getting a disease.
- Modifiable: I can change it
- Non Modifiable: I can’t change it but can do something about it.
Just a list:
- Being a Woman (although it occurs in 1% of males)
- Getting older: becomes more common above 45 years.
- Seeing your period for the first time (Menarche) very early (usually <12 years)
- Late Menopause (> 55 years)
- Getting Pregnant/breast feeding a baby late (>35 years)
- Use of Contraceptives, especially combined contraceptives. Studies have found that women using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. Once the pills are stopped, this risk seems to go back to normal over time.
- Positive Family history. Please note that about 8 out of 10 women with BCA don’t have a positive Family History, however, presence of BCA in a first degree relative (Mother, Sister, Daughter) increase the risk by two-fold.
- Alcohol intake
- Dense breast. Breast is made up principally of 3 tissues: Glandular (produces milk), fibrous (maintains the structure, more like your skeleton), fatty tissue (gives it that nice smooth shape and soft feel. Younger women have more of this). A Woman is said to have dense breasts (on Mammogram) when there is more glandular and fibrous component than fatty tissue. When this happens, she has a risk that is 1.2 to 2 times greater than that of an average breast.
- Overweight or Obesity. This comes to play mostly after menopause when the fat tissue takes over the production of estrogen from the ovaries.
- Physical inactivity.
For more information, please visit: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-risk-factors.
Signs and Symptoms
The Above picture summarizes what may be warning signs of BCA but those are confined to the breast. Some general symptoms that may be present in BCA are:
- Easy fatigability
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty passing stool (constipation)
- Loss of weight
- Feeling unwell (Malaise)
How can you prevent BCA?
There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things all women can do to help reduce their risk and help increase the odds that if cancer does occur, it will be found at an early, more treatable stage.
You can lower your risk of breast cancer by changing those risk factors that can be changed.
The above is general but there are specific ways:
- Genetic testing for BRCA Mutation
- Prophylactic Mastectomy
- Prophylactic oophorectomy
- BCA Chemoprevention
More important for us today is SCREENING. Screening is test done to look for a disease WHEN THERE ARE NO SYMPTOMS (you don’t see or feel anything wrong with you).
According to the American Cancer Society, MAMMOGRAM is the recommended way of screening for BCA.
- From 40 – 44, Women can discuss with their Physician the pros and cons before starting Mammograms yearly
- From 45 – 54, Recommended to do yearly Mammograms
- Women age 55 and oldershould switch to mammograms every 2 years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.
Breast self Examination is not among any guidelines but various Doctors encourage women to perform this simple yet helpful test on themselves monthly. For a Video on BSE, please follow this link: Watch
Clinical Breast Examination is examination of the Breast by a trained Medical personnel. This is usually better than a BSE. Doctors encourage Women to visit the Hospital at least once in 1 – 3 years to have the CBE done to them.
Breast Cancer is one of the Easily preventable Cancers but would need ACTION to be achieved.