Breast Cancer affects one in eight of American women, and is the second most common cause of cancer death in America. I chose to write my term paper on breast cancer because it is a disease that has effected some members of my family. Due to this possibly inherited condition, I felt that researching the topic would help me learn ways to prevent the disease and educate myself to perform self-exams that may result in early detection.
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor in the glandular tissues of the breast. Such tumors, also called carcinomas, form when the chemical processes that control normal cell growth break down, enabling a single abnormal cell to multiply at a rapid rate (Hickman).
Carcinomas, which tend to destroy an increasing proportion of normal breast tissue over time, may spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, other than skin cancer. A major health problem in many parts of the world, it is especially prevalent in developed countries. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in the United States more than 175,000 new cases are diagnosed and more than 43,000 women die each year from cancer originating in the breast. One in eight American women will develop this illness at some time during her life (Cummings). The rate of incidence increases with age, and women 75 years and older are at the highest risk.
Breast cancer can affect males, but the disease strikes women about 100 times as often as it does men. The good news is that if a woman develops breast cancer, her options are much greater than ever before due to advancements in technology, and proper treatment can usually preserve the breast while enhancing survival (Feldman).
Scientists do not understand exactly what causes breast cancer. Studies suggest that several categories of women are at increased risk for the disease: those who began to menstruate at an unusually early age; those who experienced menopause, or the permanent cessation of menstruation, at an unusually late age; those who waited until later in life to have children; and those who never gave birth. Such findings, all of which relate to hormone-based life events, suggest that breast cancer is somehow affected by prolonged exposure to female sex hormones, such as estrogen. Women with a history of breast cancer in the family are also at greater risk.
About five percent of all breast cancers have been attributed to a mutated, or structurally altered, gene known as BRCA1. Mutations in a second gene, BRCA2, contribute significantly to the development of breast cancer in Jewish women. Alcohol, high levels of fat in the diet, and not exercising regularly have also been linked to increased risk for breast cancer (Garber).
Three-quarters of all breast cancer patients are not in any of the groups considered at increased risk for breast cancer, indicating that not all risk factors are understood. As a result, doctors recommend that every woman should familiarize herself with the techniques for monthly breast self-examination. X-ray examination of the breasts, a technique called mammography, can detect tumors before they are large enough to be felt and increase the odds for successful treatment.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women over age 40 should have a mammogram every year. The only way to make a positive diagnosis on a suspect lump in the breast is by having a biopsy, a minor surgical procedure in which the lump or part of the lump is removed and examined under a microscope. The most common sites of metastasis in breast cancer patients are the lymph glands located in the armpit. The presence or absence of cancer cells in the lymph glands helps physicians determine how far the cancer has advanced and whether a woman is likely to be cured by mastectomy, the surgical removal of the breast (Garber).
Removal of a cancerous tumor by surgery cures one-third of all breast cancers that are detected early. If only the lump and some surrounding breast tissue are removed, leaving most of the breast intact, the procedure is called a partial mastectomy, or lumpectomy.
When the breast and other tissues surrounding it are removed, .