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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Photo by Klaus Nielsen:

Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the body. In a healthy body, cells grow and divide, but they can also grow old, get injured, or die. When cells age and die, they are replaced by new, healthy cells in a continual cycle of renewal. Cancerous growths will begin as unhealthy cells which continue to replicate themselves with no need for them and without following the patterns of healthy cells. When these cells build up enough, they form tumors.

Breast cancer occurs when these abnormal cells develop in the breast. A breast consists of three main parts: the lobules, the ducts, and the connective tissue. The lobules and ducts ensure that a woman can produce milk and release it through glands in the nipples. Connective tissues surround the other parts, holding them together. Most breast cancer begins in either the lobules or ducts, but it can also develop in the connective tissue.

Tumors are classified as being either benign or malignant. A benign tumor is rarely life-threatening because they do not spread to surrounding tissues. In other words, when benign tumors are removed, they do not grow back. A tumor is classified as malignant when it shows signs of spreading to other parts of the body, often through blood vessels and lymph vessels. This type of tumor may return after initial removal or treatments and is likely to continue growing and metastasizing (spreading) through the body. Cancer cells that have metastasized may attach themselves to other parts of the body, while still being abnormal breast cells.

Risk Factors of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is not contagious and does not occur as the result of an external bump or bruise. While researchers do not know the exact causes of breast cancer yet, research has highlighted certain risk factors which can make a person more likely to develop it. Some of these factors are preventable, while others are the results of aging. These include:

  • Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Most women are diagnosed above the age of 60. This is why breast cancer screenings (mammograms) are recommended for all women above the age of 45.

  • Family health history: Your risk of breast cancer is almost doubled if one of your immediate family members (mother, sister, or daughter) has had a similar diagnosis.

  • Lifestyle: Women who are physically inactive in their daily lives may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This also applies to women who are overweight or obese once they pass menopause. Certain lifestyle choices, like drinking alcohol, also increases the risk of cancer.

  • Reproductive and menstrual health: The following instances describe when women are more likely to develop breast cancer:

    1. Having a child at an advanced maternal age (above 35 years old),

    2. Having your first menstrual period before reaching age 12,

    3. Experiencing menopause before the age of 55,

    4. Taking menopausal hormone therapy.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

Life with Breast Cancer

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