Cancer is a broad medical term that is used to describe an abnormal cell multiplication process or growth within a living organ. The human body is made up of numerous living cells that constantly divide and form other new cells, a process well referred to as growth. Cancer normally comes in a variety of forms and types depending on the organ that is affected. However, all such strains show similar properties in terms of abnormal cell growth and tissue invasion; they also spread to other organs through blood or lymphatic system. Cancer can affect almost every part of human body, and unless it is detected early, chances of fatalities are very high during the late stages of the disease. In this paper, focus will be on cancer that affects the breast, commonly known as breast cancer.
Within a human body, living cells constantly grow, divide, and eventually produce new cells. As more cells are produced beyond the needed number, they form either a benign tumor or a malignant tumor. In particular, benign tumors can be easily removed and they are not cancerous, unlike the malignant tumors, which are abnormal cells that divide without control, affecting other nearby organs. Constant abnormal cell division results into a tumor, which if not removed early enough, affects the entire human body, thus becoming life threatening.
Breast cancer can sometimes be noninvasive (or in situ), which means that it does not spread and propagate from the original point of origin. This means that the disease is still in the point of infection, hence it is quite easy to diagnose and provide appropriate treatment. Alternatively, breast cancer may be invasive, meaning that the cancer has already propagated and spread to other locations within the human body or outside the breast, hence becoming more difficult to treat (Peacock, 2001).
Cancers in general are either carcinoma, forming on the surface of epithelial cells, or they can be sarcomas, forming in connective tissues. As a matter of fact, breast cancer is life threatening and individual’s survival chances depend on the progress of the disease within the human body cells (Brown & Boatman, 2009). This paper will discuss the pathology of breast cancer including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the epidemic that has become a major cause of mortality, especially among women. Moreover, the paper will outline various strains of breast cancer, the disease process, and risk factors associated with it.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Studies have shown that breast cancer can manifest itself in every human being regardless of gender; however, women are at a higher risk of infection than men, depending on a number of risk factors. Speaking about women, the risk factors include age, weight, heredity, and hormonal factors. Apparently, some of the risk factors such as improper diet, weight gain, lack of frequent exercise, and alcohol intake can be controlled, if not eliminated from the daily routines. However, there are other factors such as family history, race, and physical history (current age, breast-feeding, children, and menopause age), which are uncontrollable.
Breast cancer risk increases with age, hence being at a higher rate in postmenopausal women than in premenopausal women. Alcohol consumption has the risks of increasing the chances of women being affected with breast cancer. Studies have shown that there is a risk of 1.4 for each 24 grams of alcohol being consumed by women daily.
Obesity has also been considered as a causative factor for breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women, mainly because of the increased estrogen production. Exposure to ionized radiation, whether from nuclear explosion or medical procedures, is a risk factor for breast cancer and is more likely to affect people under the age of 40 years. Moreover, genetic mutations associated with a variety of individuals and their family members indicate that 45% or more of the individuals risk having breast cancer. This disease is also related to other physiological processes such as menarche; indeed, menopause in a woman whose menarche starts at the age of 12 and menopause at the age of 55 stands a greater risk of breast cancer (Jordan, 2003).
Signs and Symptoms
Breast cancer may be signaled by various changes in the organ, with the most common symptom being a lump or growth that forms in the mass of the breast. Change in the skin color and texture of the breast, depression, or dimpling of the skin due to the pulling effect caused by the tumor may also herald the presence of breast cancer. Other symptoms that may indicate cancer in the breast include enlargement of the breast, and rash on the breast skin, spontaneous fluid from the breast, and tenderness among other noticeable symptoms. Nevertheless, any unusual changes should be immediately reported to a physician. The above symptoms are identified through breast self-examination, clinical examination or mammogram x-ray medical procedures (Peacock, 2001).
Statistics Related to Breast Cancer
In diagnosis, breast cancer ranks second in terms of new cases established in the US with a rate of 29%, as well as the second most fatal cancer condition among women based on the number of deaths reported (American Cancer Society, 2013). Normally, breast cancer is prevalent in women over the age of 65 years compared to other ages. According to the American Cancer Society (2013), over 232,000 cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur in 2013 and out of that, over 99,000 (or 43%) will be women over the age of 65 years and about 10,000 (or 5%) will be women under the age of 40 years. Moreover, over 39,000 deaths related to breast cancer are expected to occur in 2013, out of which over 22,000 (or 58%) will be women over the age of 65 years and around 1000 (or 3%) will be women under the age of 40 years.
In terms of culture or ethnicity, breast cancer tends to affect different cultures at different degrees, with black American women under the age of 40 years recoding the highest number of new cases compared to other cultures (American Cancer Society, 2013). Moreover, statistics show that death incidents at any age are skewed towards the African Americans, while the Asian and Pacific Islanders record the lowest rates of death (American Cancer Society, 2013).
Diagnosis and eventual treatment of breast cancer in its early detectable phase leads to overall improvement of the cancer patient. In addition, detection requires regular screening of asymptomatic women. Various tests can be conducted to women in order to confirm the presence of the disease in the body. The earlier the disease is identified and diagnosed, the better the chances of treatment to the infected.
The first test is self-examination procedure, which involves individual women having routine self-examination of their breasts with their own palms just to feel the texture and presence of any lumps or foreign tissues on the breasts. When one feels a foreign tissue or unusual feeling in the breast, she must visit a physician for further diagnosis and assistance.
Secondly, clinical examination refers to medical procedures that are performed by medical professionals on patients in order to determine breast cancer. It involves procedures such as breast ultra-scans where specialized medical equipments are used to send pulses to the breast tissues. Here, medics apply the ultra sound images to determine and check whether the lump is a cyst or a solid mass. Breast biopsy can also be performed where cells are removed from certain mass of breast cells to determine whether its breast cancer. This procedure can either use needle or partial surgery.
Thirdly, medical professionals use x-ray procedures such as breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to detect cancer by combining magnetic radio frequencies to provide detailed body cell images for scrutiny. Contrast dye injected into the blood vein before the procedure ensures clearer images that outline abnormities. MRI is reliable in terms of human health because the procedure does not utilize radiation, hence it can be used for effective screening of a variety of younger women. Indeed, it can be combined with both mammography and breast ultra sound to provide the best diagnostic results. This is attributed to the fact that it can locate small breast lesions, which are sometimes missed by mammography (Tabar, Tot & Dean, 2005). The figure below shows an MRI image and an x-ray image of cancer-infected breasts.
MRI would be the best result oriented in terms of cancer detection due to the fact that this procedure can be used in detection of the disease in women with breast implants and younger women with dense breast tissues from genetic heredity. With the help of the advanced computer software programs, the procedure has become more effective and reliable for detection of breast cancer in most countries (Tabar, Tot & Dean, 2005).
Several medical procedures can be used for diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer as described below:
This medical procedure offers greater chances of cure if the disease has not spread to other parts of the human body. Normally, when surgery is used, the first step is to diagnose and stage the infection before the actual operation begins. Breast cancer affects or rather metastasizes to the axilla node within the breast, prompting the performance of axillary surgery. Various techniques utilized in surgery include laser surgery performed with the help of highly focused beams of light energy. This is more precise and can be used to vaporize and destroy cancer cells involving less cutting and hence less damage. Cryosurgery, which applies liquid nitrogen spray, can also be used to freeze and kill abnormal cancer cells. Depending on the size of the tumor, surgical removal of the infected tissue or lumpectomy may be carried out whereby the tumor will be separated from other healthy tissues. At times, the entire breast can be surgically removed (mastectomy) and even the adjacent chest muscles and lymph nodes in the armpits (Harmer, 2003).
This procedure strongly relies on physics and technology when used to deliver radiation as well as cell biology in the assessment of tumor and normal tissue response to radiation. Such radiation procedures are administered after lumpectomy or mastectomy to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
Chemotherapy involves medical procedures that use cytotoxic drugs to destroy and kill cancer cells. The process is administered in two ways namely, adjuvant and neo adjuvant chemotherapy. Adjuvant chemotherapy covers the use of cytotoxic drugs where there is a chance of cancer recurrence or propagating to organs beyond the breast. Neo adjuvant chemotherapy is administered before surgery where the tumors are large. It enables shrinking of cancer, thus making them easier to remove. It also reduces estrogen production, which is a risk factor in enhancement of the cancer cells growth. The above procedure has increased the chances of patient’s survival with locally advanced disease. The preclinical findings suggest that initiation of chemotherapy prior to surgery offers greater potential advantages that improve patient survival, and at the same time, reducing the symptoms (Singletary, Robb & Hortobagyi, 2004).
Projected Outcome for Patients after Treatment
Patients with breast cancer have a varied lifetime of both survival and healing processes. This depends entirely on the factors such as the stage of the disease when diagnosed. For instance, if the disease is diagnosed at an earlier stage before it propagates to other parts of the body, patients have a greater chance of surviving and eventual healing tumor location, gene expression, and the rate of cell division. At the early stages, treatment procedures can be performed with less complications and higher precision to eliminate the disease from the human body.
Mortality rates have declined by 25% ever since 1990 due to better screening and treatment. However, the women within lower social economic groups have lower survival rates as compared to their counterparts with a social status. Those who are affected with the disease not spread to the lymph nodes yet have at least five survival rates with provision of medical treatment up to 98%, whereas 23% survival rates are guaranteed if the tumor has spread to other parts.
Breast cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, and it has been on the rise in the recent years all over the world. Normally, it is more common among women than in men due to various aspects and factors as discussed above. Recent statistics in the US indicate that breast cancer is the second most detectable cancer after skin cancer among women, and it ranks second in terms of deaths or fatalities related to cancer. The diagnosis of breast cancer may be conducted by either one or a combination of the three methods, namely self-examination, clinical examination, or mammogram x-ray procedure. Moreover, when detected, breast cancer can be treated through surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy procedures. Nevertheless, early diagnosis and detection is important, as any delay may lead to complications that would be very difficult to eliminate.
American Cancer Society. (2013). Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2013-2014. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, Inc. Web.
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Peacock J. (2001). Breast Cancer. Minnesota: Capstone Press.
Singletary, S., Robb, G., & Hortobagyi, G. (2004). Advanced Therapy of Breast Disease. Ontario, Canada: BC Decker Inc.
Tabar, L., Tot, T., & Dean, P. (2005). Breast Cancer-The Art and Science of Early Detection with Mammography. Stuttgart, Germany: Georg Thieme Verlag.