#1: Is breast cancer for real? Is it COMMON?
About 458, 503 women died worldwide from breast cancer in the year 2008. [Whisper-gossips: Don’t worry. I don’t exactly believe some of these big numbers and statistics too. 458, 503?] Incidence is lowest in less-developed countries. For example, 90 in every 100,000 women in North America; and 20 in every 100,000 in sub-saharan Africa. Good news!
#2: I need to know the CAUSES of breast cancer so I could avoid it.
Obviously, Plasmodium spp., through mosquito bites, cause malaria; but the cause of breast cancer is not that clear. We see some factors associated with people that develop the cancer, and factors that increase the risk of developing breast cancer. It’s an interplay of Nature [Genetics/heredity] and Nurture [Environment/lifestyle]. We can only boldly talk about “risk factors”, not “cause”.
#3: How do I know if I have the RISK of developing Breast Cancer?
Truth is some people are high risk, with all the major risk factors, yet do not develop the cancer; while others with no known risk factors develop the cancer. Risk is risk; not a certain cause. Risk factors for developing breast cancer include: Family history [if your mother, sister, or daughter has or had cancer of the breasts or ovaries], Obesity (and high-fat diet), increasing age, alcoholism and smoking (increases the risk to about 50%), lack of childbearing and breast-feeding [Giving birth (before 35 years of age) and breast-feeding decrease the risk of developing the cancer], beginning menstruation before 12years of age and late menopause (increase the risk), and so on.
Note: Contrary to what many believe, miscarriages, abortions, and low-dose x-rays do NOT increase the risk of the cancer! Using birth control pills, also, has no significant increase in the risk.
#4: What are the SYMPTOMS and signs I should watch out for?
First, let me warn you! Do not start crying yet if you see some of the symptoms I will mention. 80% of these symptoms are benign — they are not cancerous; only 20% indicate cancer. Symptoms include: Abnormal, unusual lumps (which usually are painless. Calm down! Most lumps are normal. Surprisingly, some cancers don’t even present with any lumps!), changes in breast-skin color and texture (forming dimples; redness or darkening; orange-peel texture and appearance, thickening), changes in nipples [change in size, shape, and position; gets pulled in, inverted, retracted; peeling, flaking, scaling; clear, colored, or bloody nipple discharge or fluids; rashes, itching, burning sensation; open wound], persistent entire breast pain [pain is not reliable; there are many causes of breast pain, and most are normal], swollen lymph nodes in armpits, and so on.
#4: GUYS must be lucky!
Not exactly. Breast cancer affects males too! Even though it isn’t as common as in the females, sadly, the outcome is worse if a male develops breast cancer.
#5: Is there any HOPE?
Yes, there is. Number of deaths from breast cancer is significantly decreasing. We now better understand the disease; we can detect the disease earlier; there are newer treatment options. Things are getting better!
#6: What can I do NOW?
Perform periodic breast self-examination [Wait for the next article to tell you how]. Maintain a healthy weight. Engage in regular physical activities and exercise. Stop smoking. Reduce alcohol intake. Reduce fatty foods. Get pregnant before 35yrs of age, and breast-feed your baby for Heaven’s sake! ‘Clear your doubts’ by visiting a doctor (who might ask you some questions, examine you, and run some tests on you).
#7: Is there any other thing you feel I should KNOW?
Yes. This article is only but a scratch of the surface. Answers to details would require you contacting a medical personnel. Anyways, these aforementioned answers should take care of your fears, for now.