When Detected Early, drug Breast Cancer Does Not Have To Be A Death Sentence
By Bernard Freeman
The Fight Goes On
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but advocates across the globe have turned the fight against breast cancer into a daily battle.
Researchers, physicians and fundraisers aren’t waiting for the fall season to do their part. They are working year-round to help put an end to breast cancer. They do so in honor of lost loved ones and family members, as well as for the millions of women who have overcome the deadly disease over the years.
It’s Your Choice
Survival rates can be helpful for physicians trying to explain diagnoses and treatment options. Some patients with breast cancer may want to know their survival statistics while others may choose to go without hearing them.
Breast Cancer Survival Rates
Below are the various stages of breast cancer and their associated five-year relative survival rates, according to the American Cancer Society.
Stage 0: 100 percent survival rate
Stage I: 100 percent survival rate
Stage II: 93 percent survival rate
Stage III: 72 percent survival rate
Stage IV: 22 percent survival rate
While breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are difficult for women of any age, younger women may find the experience overwhelming. With youth comes the feeling of invincibility for so many people, so dealing with a cancer diagnosis can come as quite a challenge.
About 11 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And, unless they have witnessed a relative, or friend, go through the diagnosis and treatment process, young women can find it a shocking experience to find out they have breast cancer.
Who is at Risk?
The CDC identifies certain segments of the population to be at an increased risk of getting breast cancer at an early age compared with other women their age. Here are some factors to consider:
- You have close relatives (parents, siblings or children) who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer when they were younger than 45. This is especially true if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
- You were treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
What to Do
The most crucial action you can take as a young woman with an increased risk for breast cancer is talking to your doctor. He or she may suggest ways that you can improve your chances against breast cancer and will have more information on genetic counseling that could potentially uncover mutations in your gene structure.
It also may be recommended that you receive mammograms earlier and more often than other women, or you may need other screening tests.
Cut Down the Risk
Many factors can influence your risk of getting breast cancer. They are important to understand, because most women who develop the disease have no known risk factors or history of breast cancer in their families.
Here are some ways to improve your chances of staying breast cancer-free:
- Maintain a healthy weight;
- Exercise regularly;
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to one per day;
- Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer, such as the carcinogens found in cigarettes;
- Reduce your exposure to radiation during medical tests such as mammograms, X-rays, CT scans and PET scans;
- Ask your doctor about the risks of taking hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives; and
- Breastfeed your babies, if possible.
Early Detection Plan
While researchers continue to make strides toward more frequent early detection of breast cancer in the United States, cases in developing countries are still being diagnosed in later stages.
Research has shown that the earlier breast cancer is found, the more treatable it is. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, one-third of breast cancer deaths could be decreased if detected and treated early; meaning that about 400,000 lives could be saved globally every year.
The lower survival rates in less developed countries can be explained mainly by the lack of early detection programs, resulting in a high proportion of women presenting with late-stage disease, as well as by the lack of adequate diagnosis and treatment facilities.
Don’t Ignore the Signs
When breast cancer has grown to a size that can be felt, the most common physical sign is a painless lump. Sometimes breast cancer can spread to the underarm lymph nodes and cause a lump or swelling, even before the original breast tumor is large enough to be felt.
Less common signs and symptoms include breast pain or heaviness; persistent changes to the breast, such as swelling, thickening or redness of the breast’s skin; and nipple abnormalities such as spontaneous discharge, erosion, inversion or tenderness.
Pain or lack of pain, it is worthy of note, does not indicate the presence or the absence of breast cancer; hence, any persistent abnormality in the breast should be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible.
Exercise Is Key
The key to preventing breast cancer may be in your legs. Research has shown that regular exercise can help drastically decrease your risk of getting breast cancer.
A study published in 2011 by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found a 25 percent average breast cancer risk reduction among physically active women compared to the least active women. The study was a compilation of results from 73 others conducted across the globe.
Why the link? The study’s researchers stated: “It is likely that physical activity is associated with decreased breast cancer risk via multiple interrelated biologic pathways that may involve adiposity, sex hormones, insulin resistance, adipokine and chronic inflammation.”
In other words, physical activity can have a big impact on various body factors contributing to the prevention of breast cancer. So work in that extra jog or bike ride this afternoon. Your body will thank you later.
Activities of moderate to vigorous in nature are recommended by the American Cancer Society when it comes to working out for breast cancer prevention.
What is moderate exercise? Here are some options, as defined by the ACS:
- Walking briskly (a 15-minute mile);
- Light yard work (raking and bagging leaves or using a push lawn mower);
- Light snow shoveling;
- Actively playing with children; and
- Biking at a casual pace.
On the other spectrum, vigorous exercise involves quickening your heart rate and increasing your breathing. These types of workouts can include the following:
- Jogging or running;
- Swimming laps;
- Rollerblading/inline skating at a brisk pace;
- Cross-country skiing;
- Jumping rope; and
- Most competitive sports (football, basketball, or soccer).
If you knew that smoking gave you a higher risk of getting breast cancer, would you stop? If research showed that healing after surgery and breast reconstruction could be hampered by smoking, would you quit?
It can and it has. The time to quit smoking is now. Kicking the habit is serious business requiring tremendous willpower. Fortunately, there are numerous resources to help you along the way.
Smoking & Breast Cancer
Smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women, according to the American Cancer Society. Research also has shown that there may be a link between very heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
Smoking also can increase complications from breast cancer treatment, including:
- Damage to the lungs from radiation therapy;
- Difficulty healing after surgery and breast reconstruction; and
- Higher risk of blood clots when taking hormonal therapy medicines.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, use every resource you can find to help you quit. Knowing about all the problems associated with smoking isn’t always enough to make you quit.
Smoking is a habit that’s very hard to break. Fortunately, if you’re serious about trying, you have lots of help.
How to Quit
The American Lung Association offers a free online smoking cessation program. The American Cancer Society also has a quit smoking program. You also can call the American Cancer Society at 800-ACS-2345 to get support and free advice on how to stop smoking from trained counselors.
By The Numbers
Breast cancer is a scary disease, no matter how you look at the numbers. The fact that each year in the United States more than 200,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 die is eye opening.
- Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.
- About 11 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
- African American women have the highest breast cancer death rates of all racial and ethnic groups, and are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than Caucasian women.
- Breast cancer incidence rates have steadily decreased in the U.S. since 2000.
- Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women.
- In 2013, there were more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S.
- About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations inherited from one’s mother or father.
- About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer.