Breast cancer is one of the top cancers in women today. Most of us would know someone who has, or has had breast cancer, and with the ongoing media coverage of the condition, women are becoming increasingly aware of the condition. National breast screening programmes, dedicated breast clinics, advances in modern treatment methods together with ongoing research, all play their part in the early detection and successful treatment.
What is Cancer?
Cells throughout the body are continually being lost and replaced, occuring in a state of balance. If, for some reason, the control mechanisms ensuring this balance become disrupted, a cell may start multiplying out of control – a tumour is then born.
Tumours are classified into whether they are benign or malignant. Benign tumours are those which, whilst growing in a uncontrolled Dr Vikas Goswami manner, do not spread beyond the confines of their anatomical boundaries. Malignant tumours, on the other hand, are those which have the ability to invade structures and thereby enabling them to spread beyond their anatomical boundaries. They are also able to spread to distant parts of the body by invading the blood and lymphatic systems. The characteristic feature shared by all cancers is that this usual balance between cell loss and cell multiplication is disrupted.
What are the Risk Factors for developing Breast Cancer?
Some women with one, or even a few risk factors, never go on to develop breast cancer, whilst there are many women with breast cancer who have no apparent risk factors.
The Following are known risk factors:
• Having had cancer in one breast: this increases 3 to 4 fold, the risk of developing a new breast cancer, unrelated to the first, in the other breast, or in another part of the same breast.
• Getting older: the risk of breast cancer increases with age, the peak incidence occurring in the 55 to 59 age group. Whilst breast cancer predominantly affects older women, it can occur in women under 30 years of age.
• Family history of breast cancer: having a first degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer increases your risk of having breast cancer yourself.
• Predisposing breast conditions: history of certain breast conditions, such as atypical lobular or ductal hyperplasia, and lobar carcinoma in-situ, increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
• Genetics: carriers of alterations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Women suspected to have genetic risk for breast cancer should undergo genetic risk assessment by a specialist (ideally in a cancer genetics clinic). Women with this BRCA mutation have about a 5 – 10 times increased risk for developing breast cancer compared to women without this mutation. They also tend to present with breast cancer at a much earlier age.