Breast cancer is a disease characterized by the disorderly multiplication of cells, thus forming a tumor. Despite referring to women, breast cancer can affect men as well, however, they correspond to only 1% of cases.

Is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It is estimated that in 2021, approximately 30% of all new women's cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer.

There are different types of breast cancer. Some develop rapidly, while others grow slowly. Most cases, when treated properly and on time, have a good prognosis.

The movement began in the United States, in the mid-1990s when each year in October, isolated actions were carried out in several states to prevent the disease. Later, October would turn out to be National Breast Cancer Prevention Month in the United States.

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The pink color was used because of the first Race for the Cure, held in New York in 1990 when pink ribbons were distributed to the participants. As the campaign grew, other actions such as races and even fashion shows emerged, and so began the custom of lighting buildings, bridges, and monuments in pink.

Some facts

In 2021, an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. as well as 49,290 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. And this year, it is also estimated that 43,600 women will die from breast cancer in the U.S.

63% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at a localized stage (there is no sign that cancer has spread outside of the breast), for which the 5-year survival rate is 99%. 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

Although rare, men get breast cancer too. This year, an estimated 2,650 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. and approximately 530 will die.

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Main causes of breast cancer

Cancer, in general, can have several causes. Factors external or internal to the body contribute to the development of the disease. External causes are related to the environment, habits, customs, and quality of life of the person.  Internal causes are, in most cases, genetically predetermined and are linked to the organism's ability to defend itself from external aggressions.

Concerning breast cancer, it can be said that its main risk factor is age. Relatively rare before the age of 35, above this age, its incidence increases progressively, especially after the age of 50 years. Statistics reveal that for every five cases, four happen after the age of 50. In addition, there is an increase in its incidence in both developed and developing countries.

Other factors that increase the risk of the disease evolving are:

  • History of cancer (breast and ovarian) in the family;
  • First pregnancy after age 30;
  • Frequent exposure to ionizing radiation;
  • Sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and overweight after menopause;
  • Consumption of alcoholic drinks;
  • Use of hormonal contraceptives (estrogen-progesterone).
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For diagnosis, the following technologies are used today:

  • Diagnostic Mammogram - A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. While screening mammograms are routinely administered to detect breast cancer in women who have no apparent symptoms, mammograms can be used after suspicious results on a screening mammogram or after some signs of breast cancer alert the health professional to check the tissue.
  • Ultrasound - If a suspicious site is detected in your breast through a self-exam, the doctor may request an ultrasound of the breast tissue. An ultrasound is a scan that uses penetrating sound waves that do not affect or damage the tissue.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging - During the process of diagnosis, it is helpful to get a variety of images and perspectives. If your initial exams are not conclusive, your doctor may recommend a breast MRI.
  • Biopsy and lab tests - A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or sometimes fluid from the suspicious area and it is the only diagnostic procedure that can definitely determine if the suspicious area is cancerous through lab tests. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor may order additional lab tests to assist with prognosis.

Main symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer can vary from person to person, and some may not even have any symptoms at all. The main manifestation of the disease is through a nodule (lump) in the breast, which is usually painless. This lump may be very small and may also be present in the armpits and neck. Other symptoms can be:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if you don't feel a lump);
  • Single hardened nodule;
  • Irritation or bulging of part of the breast;
  • Breast or nipple pain;
  • Nipple inversion;
  • Erythema (redness) of the skin;
  • Edema (swelling) of the skin;
  • Thickening or retraction of the skin or nipple;
  • Bloody or serous discharge from the nipples;
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.

Breast cancer prevention

Prevention of breast cancer is not entirely possible due to the multiplicity of factors related to the onset of the disease and the fact that many of them are not modifiable. In general, prevention is based on controlling risk factors and encouraging protective factors, specifically those considered modifiable.

However, in a lot of cases, the cancer is detected by the woman herself, through palpation of the breasts. Performing the self-examination is very simple, check out the tips:

  • In front of the mirror, observe the nipple and the surface of the breasts, as well as the outline of the breasts;
  • Make circular motions, down and up, side to side. Note if there is any secretion coming out of the nipples;
  • Standing, raise your arm and observe if the movement alters the contour and surface of the breasts;
  • Lying down, put one arm under your head, and examine the breasts with the opposite hand.

The self-examination allows the woman to feel nodules from 1cm in length with the touch. Remember that the sooner it is discovered, the easier it will be to fight it. If detected, the woman must seek a doctor as soon as possible, as only he can diagnose the disease. The annual clinical examination can be performed by a gynecologist or breast cancer specialist.

it is estimated that through diet, nutrition, and physical activity it is possible to reduce the risk of a woman developing breast cancer by up to 28%. Controlling body weight and avoiding obesity, through healthy eating and regular physical exercise, and avoiding alcohol consumption are basic recommendations to prevent breast cancer. Breastfeeding is also considered a protective factor.

Source: National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc.