This week marks the beginning of breast cancer awareness week. Breast cancer is a cancer that primarily affects breast tissues. Both men and women can develop breast cancer, although male breast cancer is relatively rare. People of all ages, races, sexual preference, and social backgrounds are at risk for breast cancer. In 2010, over 200,000 American women and nearly 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost 40,000 women and 400 men will succumb to the disease this year.
People of all ages, races, sexual preferences, and social backgrounds are at risk for breast cancer. Still, white women are more likely to develop breast cancer than any other group—specifically, Jewish women of Eastern European descent are disproportionately affected. However, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Plus, although younger women can develop breast cancer, older women are at a higher risk than any other age group. Remember, women and men with a family history of breast cancer are at a higher risk than the general population—especially if family members were diagnosed with the disease before the age of 50.
Most breast cancers begin in the ducts, which carry breast milk to the nipple, or to the lobules, the glands that create breast milk. During the first stages of breast cancer, there are few noticeable symptoms. Breast tumors tend to develop very slowly—in fact, it can take up to a decade before you can even notice a lump in your breast. However, there are symptoms that every woman (and even man) should be aware of. Some patients notice nipple discharge, a change in the shape and size of the breast and nipples, and lumps in and around the breast. Others develop scaly red skin around the breasts.
Once diagnosed, breast cancer is treatable: there is an 89% survival rate through the first five years after diagnosis. Women who find that they have breast cancer early on have a very high survival rate. There are many different types of treatment that vary in effectiveness from person to person. Mastectomy (breast surgery) and radiation can remove tumors in the breasts. Hormone therapy and chemotherapy are also used to target the cancer through the bloodstream. Depending on the person, the treatments can also be combined depending on the stage of breast cancer.
Due to increasing levels of awareness, major steps have been made in breast cancer research. In August, researchers released the results of a study that linked a certain protein to breast cancer treatment. Ferroportin is a protein that removes iron from cells. According to the study, patients with lower cellular ferroportin levels, tumors thrived on elevated iron levels, expanding in size and increasing in aggressiveness. Patients with low levels of ferroportin were more likely to have aggressive cases of breast cancer, while women with high ferroportin levels were 90% more likely to beat the cancer. As a side note, the study followed iron levels within the cells, not iron consumed in your daily diet. This development may help researchers create new treatments, and is also a good marker for survival.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Week, be sure to spread the word about the disease. By raising awareness, we can develop treatments and hopefully eliminate breast cancer once and for all.