This year, about 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer. For women, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, even though breast cancer death rates have been slowly decreasing since the late 1980s. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. Three million American women have a history of breast cancer, meaning that they are women who have finished treatment or are currently being treated for breast cancer. Deaths from breast cancer have been slowly decreasing due to a change in treatment plan and increased awareness of the disease. October has now become synonymous with breast cancer awareness; encouraging that women receive mammograms annually to be screened for any suspicious symptoms.
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast tissue. Breast cancer, while mostly affecting women, can certainly happen to men, as all humans have breast tissue. There is still much to learn on how cancer begins, grows and metastasizes to other parts of the body. In essence, the cells that make up our bodies are building blocks of our tissues and organs. Sometimes, those cells are damaged and begin to reproduce mutated cells. Aggressive growth of these mutated and damaged cells can form a tumor, a lump of tissue that doesn’t function like it should. Normal, healthy hormones like estrogen and progesterone that exist in bodies can fuel the growth of all cells, even cancer cells. Once these cancer cells are present in the breast and dividing and mutating at a rapid pace, the lymph system ferries cancerous cells away from healthy tissue—however, in doing this, spreads the cancer cells to other parts of the body.
While family history is thought to play a large part in the likelihood of developing breast cancer, 85% of breast cancer occurs in women who have no family history of breast cancer. Breast cancer is more common in African-American women than in white women, but the two major risk facts for breast cancer are actually things that cannot be controlled. The two major risk factors for breast cancer are getting older and being a woman. Because breast cancer has more visibility than ever before, and with the invention of the Internet, rumors come quickly. Over the past twenty years, many a keyboard warrior has claimed that all manner of things have been proven to “cause” breast cancer, or tangibly increase patient risk. Deodorants and antiperspirants. For a time, an email rumor claimed that underarm deodorants and antiperspirants contained cancer-causing substances that were deposited into the lymph nodes. These substances were not able to be banished from the body by sweating because deodorant prevents you from sweating. These claims have been proven to be largely untrue, and the lymph nodes are not even connected to the sweat glands. Wearing a bra. Simply, there is no scientific evidence that proves that wearing a bra causes breast cancer. Coffee. Recent studies have found that coffee may actually lower the risk of several types of cancer. The controversial aspect to coffee is a chemical called acrylamide, a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Acrylamide is found in coffee as a part of the roasting process. This chemical is also found as a part of many foods, including potato chips, French fries, pretzels, cookies, and cereals. The key to any diet is moderation, and coffee drunk in moderation has not been shown to have any adverse health benefits, cancer-related or otherwise.
The factors that actually increase someone’s risk for cancer have little to do with the type of personal care items they may or may not use. As previously stated, age and gender are the two main risk factors for breast cancer—being a woman and getting older. One of the major risk factors for any type of cancer is smoking. Lifestyle factors play a marginally small role in reducing breast cancer risk, but can reduce risk for many other diseases that are equally as deadly, like stroke and heart disease. Drinking alcohol to excess increases cancer risk by 42%, and is a known cause of cancer of the mouth, throat, liver and breast. A diet with poor nutrition (low in fruits and vegetables) is also another risk factor for cancer—the American Cancer Society recommends that individuals get 2 and a half cups of vegetables each day. Lack of physical activity is also a cancer risk. Exercise improves hormone levels that may contribute to the reproduction of cancer cells, and boosts the immune system.
The treatment for breast cancer varies by patient and specific need. It can be tempting to go online for research purposes, but take caution with what you may read on the internet or in popular magazines. The best form of information and research you have is your physician, and the best steps you can take to mitigate risk are simple: get screened annually for a mammogram, eat well and exercise, and consume alcohol and coffee in moderation. There is no guarantee against any type of cancer, especially cancer of the breast, but taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle has no negative side effects.
Dr. Amber Dobyne
OakBend Medical Group Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.