Breast Cancer Awareness: What is it and who is at risk? (Part 1)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What is Breast Cancer? Imagine your breast as an upturned bush. Its leaves are known as lobules which produce milk and drain into ducts that are branches of the breast tree. These in turn drain into 12-15 large or main ducts which empty onto the surface of the nipple, akin to the trunk of a tree.
Breast cancer develops from the cells that line the breast lobules (lobular carcinoma) and draining ducts (ductular carcinoma). Additionally, breast cancers are divided into 2 other categories, non invasive, i.e. remaining confined to the ducts or lobules, and invasive, having spread outside the ducts or lobules into surrounding breast tissue.
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women and affects approximately 1 million women world wide. It has an incident rate of 1 in every 6 women.
Risk factors for breast cancer include:
Age & Gender. Breast cancer risk increases with age. Most advanced breast cancer cases are found in women age over 50. Women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men.
Family History. Risk for breast cancer is also greater if there’s a family history of a close relative who has had breast, uterine, ovarian or colon cancer. About 20-30% of women who have breast cancer have family history of the disease.
Genes. To date, mutations in 2 genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been identified with increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Menstrual cycle: A longer reproductive length, starting your menses at an early age (before 12) or going through menopause late (after 55) is also associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
Other Risk factors include:
- Childbearing: the more children you have, the less likely your risk of developing breast cancer. This is due to the hormonal effect of estrogen.
- Hormone replacement therapy: those on HRT receiving estrogen for several years or more are at increased risk.
- Radiation exposure in the chest area will also increase risk.
- In our follow up article, we will InsyaAllah discuss screening for breast cancer as well as diet and lifestyle links.