22 September 2002

The Facts About Breast Cancer

Équipe -Pose ta question!-

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death amongst Canadian women. In the past ten years, close to two million women in North America were diagnosed with breast cancer, and over 500 000 of them died. On average, that is close to one woman every ten minutes.

Shocking, sickening, frightening… words like these are not sufficient to describe the terrible effects of breast cancer. Maybe it's time to take a look at this terrible disease.

First off, let's get the facts straight, and clear up any misconceptions you may have. The exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown, although scientists have identified the major risk factors as being older (the highest rate of increase in breast cancer incidence is among women 60 and older) and being female. Also, having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk of getting the disease yourself.

Breast mass containing both benign (left) and malignant (right) cell clumps.

In general, breast cancer is difficult to detect for the unaware individual. The dreaded “lump” that hints at breast cancer can be as small as 2-3mm; how many cancerous cells can a lump this size contain? 1 billion. On the brighter side, eight out of ten breast growths are not cancerous. Also, breast cancer can be cured if it is detected in time, with a 90% chance of complete recovery.

So what can you do to detect this disease early? The greatest weapon in the fight against breast cancer is examining your own breasts. Make sure you have annual checkups with your physician, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Although most breast lumps are not cancerous, you should inform your physician of all developments.

The danger of breast cancer is not so much its location, but rather the spread of the cancer through the blood into other, more vital parts of your body. For instance, if the cancerous cells become active and enter your bloodstream, they can end up in your lungs or anywhere along your gastrointestinal (digestive) tract.

A common misconception about this disease is that it affects women only. In fact, male breast cancer accounts for about 3% of all breast cancer cases. And although this may not seem like a high percentage, the fact is that males are less likely to notice symptoms, simply because they think it won't happen to them.

The greatest weapon in the fight against breast cancer is examining your own breasts

In addition, breast lumps that form in men have a tendency to form directly beneath the nipple, making them difficult to detect. Most boys experience some form of breast enlargement during puberty, and the worst part is that it occurs… you guessed it… right beneath the nipple.

So how the heck are you supposed to know if breast growth is cancerous or not?!? Well, cancerous growth is usually accompanied (in males, that is) by bloody discharge, skin ulceration, and nipple retraction (which is when the nipple kind of caves in on itself).

So… now you know that breast cancer is not only a deadly disease, it affects both males and females. Late diagnosis usually results in surgery which, if not successful, leads to the death of the patient. It is important to perform frequent self-examinations and ask your doctor for all the information you can get. Yes, guys, that means you too. Breast cancer is no laughing matter (and neither are breasts, for that matter). It can kill you, or someone you love. For more information, go to CancerNet's webpage.