Breast cancer is one of the most common type of cancer which preys on a large number of women globally. India has witnessed a double incidence rate of breast cancer in the last 20 years. The rise in the number of cases every year poses the immediate need to spread proper awareness about breast cancer causes and ways to deal with it.
Breast cancer can be defined as an uncontrolled growth of the malignant cells in the mammary glands. It starts when the cells in the breasts begin to develop out of control. Breast cancer is caused due to the mutation of the breast cells and the cancer can occur either in the lobules (milk producing glands) the ducts (pathways that carry the milk from the gland to the nipples) of the breast. The cancer causes the cell to divide and multiply uncontrollably which causes the cancer to spread to the other parts of the body.
Causes of Breast Cancer
The exact breast cancer causes are still unknown. However, there are certain risk factors that increase the chance of developing breast cancer. The risk factors are as follows:
- Being a woman: being a woman is one of the most prominent risk factors for developing breast cancer. Irrespective of gender anyone can get affected by breast cancer but usually women are more susceptible to breast cancer.
- History of breast cancer: A woman who already had breast cancer once, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or invasive breast cancer is at a higher risk of developing a new breast cancer, either in the other part of the same breast or in the other breast.
- Age: According to reports 77% of woman who have breast cancer are over 50 years and more than 40% are 65 and older. With the increasing age the risk of getting breast cancer also rises. Between 30-39 years of age the risk is 0.44% i.e. 1 in 228 which reaches to 3.448% i.e. 1 in 29 when they are in their 60s.
- Family history: Having a close relative with breast cancer increases a woman’s risk towards the same disease. Having a first degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) diagnosed with breast cancer doubles the risk. Having 2 first degree relatives with the disease triples the risk and having a male blood relative with breast cancer also escalates the risk.
- Dense breasts: One of the dominant breast cancer cause is known to be high breast density. The risk of breast cancer is more in a woman having a dense breast.
- Menstruation: Women whose menstruation started at a very young age (before 12) are at a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Menopause: Women who go through late menopause i.e. after 55 are also at risk of developing breast cancer.
- Genetics: Gene mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are also one of the causes for developing breast cancer. There is a considerable risk of developing the breast cancer disease if a woman is inheriting an altered gene from her parent.
- Weight: The risk of having breast cancer also increases intensively if a woman is overweight after menopause.
- Having a child after30: Conceiving and giving birth to the first child after 30 is also reported to be one of the causes for breast cancer. It is observed that breastfeeding and pregnancy reduces the future risk for breast cancer.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Consuming estrogen and progesterone for a longer period of time as hormone therapy for treating signs and symptoms of menopause increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Radiation Treatment: Exposure to radiation treatment to chest before the age of 30 for cancer like lymphoma surges the risk for breast cancer.
- Breast lesions: Having a typical hyperplasia (ductal or lobular) or lobular carcinoma in situ also increases the risk by 4 to 5 times for a breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol: Consumption of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. According to a recent meta- analysis, it was found that alcohol and breast cancer are interlinked and women who consume alcohol habitually are more prone to breast cancer.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer may not show any symptom in its early stage and sometimes the tumour may be too small to be felt but a deformity can be seen on a mammogram. The first breast cancer symptom would be a new lump in the breast. But not necessarily a single lump would confirm the breast cancer, but there are many other symptoms which should be taken into consideration for the treatment of breast cancer. Some of the major symptoms that raise a concern are listed below:
- A lump in the breast
- Pain or discomfort in the breast area
- Swelling or thickening of the breast
- Blood discharge from the nipple
- Peeling redness or flaking of skin in the nipple area
- A sudden change in the size or shape of the breast
- Inverted nipple
- Changes in the skin texture of the breast area.
- A lump under your arm
Pain in the breast or breast lump can be caused by benign cyst. Hence, if you find any of these symptoms it does not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor as early as possible if you find any resemblance of breast cancer symptoms for proper examination.