First, the bad news: one in eight women gets it. Breast cancer is responsible for more than 40,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. The good news is that with early detection, full recovery is a virtual lock.
The easiest and least expensive method of detection is the breast self-exam. One should feel for a lump, which typically is the size of a marble and found either in the breast tissue or in the armpit area.
“About 80 percent of breast cancer tumors are brought to the attention of physicians by patients themselves,” said Maj. Joseph Flynn, chief of hematology/oncology at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “So monthly self-exams work.”
It’s important to catch it before it roots itself in the tissue, thus going from premalignant to an invasive form of cancer. It wants nothing more than to spread to other organs and bones. The more advanced the cancer is, the more surgery and chemotherapy will be needed.
“If you discover a lump, don’t wait around before seeking medical attention,” said Major Flynn. “Don’t pretend it’s not there. That’s where people get in to trouble: they sit around and wait.”
There are several methods of treatment, which include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and pills.
The cause of breast cancer remains unknown, but there are a few things that put a woman at a higher risk for the disease. The older a woman is, the higher the risk. The older a woman is when she has her first child is a factor. Having that first child after age 30 increases the risk of breast cancer. Then, there are genetics. If a woman has the breast cancer gene, she has a greater than 80 percent chance of getting the disease, said Major Flynn.
“We have a fatter society and our diet is worse,” he said. “Diet is a hard thing to study, but we think there is a dietary link. There likely is an obesity link as well.”
Asians and Native Americans have the lowest rates of breast cancer, while caucasians and African-Americans lead the way at the upper end of the spectrum.
One disturbing trend that is on the rise is the number of breast cancer cases in men – about one in every 100 breast cancers.
“I’ve had male patients with breast cancer,” he said. “Men definitely are at risk, just not to the extent that women are. Everyone knows someone with breast cancer.”
All the more reason to catch and cure it early.