Cancer is a general term which refers to a condition in which there is an uncontrolled rapid growth and change of body cells. Cancer cells proliferate without control and serve no useful function. This uncontrolled cell growth can start from any parts. What actually causes these changes and uncontrolled growth is not completely known for each type of cancer causing agents and stimuli (carcinogens) are now known to initiate these changes.
In women as a whole the breast is the most venerable site for cancer. The signs and symptoms are usually a lump in or swelling of the breast; recent nipple retraction; local skin tethering; nipple bleeding or discharge. Occasionally, women present with back pain.
There are striking differences in the incidence of breast cancer in different geographical areas. The disease occurs at high rates in Western Europe and the United States and at extremely low rate in oriental south East Asian countries. In the United States and Britain, breast cancer is the commonest form of cancer among women: 32,000 American women die of the disease each year out of some 109,000 new cases. The estimated annual incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria is 9.4 per 100,000 women. Cancer of the breast accounts for 55 of all cancers in Nigeria women, making it the second most common malignant tumour in Nigerian women surpassed only by cancer of the cervix.
The exact causes of breast cancer are not known but certain predisposing factors have been clearly identified. Breast cancer is more common in women with a family history of the disease. Nuns and women who have never borne a child are at higher risk of breast cancer than the counterparts of similar age who have children. The risk of breast cancer increases with age and the disease rarely occurs in women less than 30 years of age, having breastfeeding suppressed by oestrogen tablets. Heavy radiation exposure and a high fat diet contribute to increased susceptibility. What is presented here are trends which identify high risk groups. It is quite possible for a woman to be afflicted with breast cancer even if she does not belong to any of those high – risk groups.
The end result of an untreated malignant tumour of the breast is death. With early detection, breast cancer can now be successfully treated. The outlook is however worse for women who develop the disease before menopause. Many scientific methods have been developed for diagnosing breast cancer; these include mammography, thermography, xeroradiography and fine needle aspiration. These methods are usually expensive and are only available in well equipped-hospitals. You can start the diagnosis at home by answering the following questions.
Men can have breast cancer. But male cancer accounts for only 1% (or less) of all breast cancers. Therefore the questions below are for our female readers. Interested male readers may answer the question for their mothers, daughters and sisters or other female relatives.
Encircle the letter “Y” if the answer is yes and the letter “N” if No.
(1) Are you over 30 years of age? Y N
(2) Are you single? Y N
(3) Are you a nun? Y N
(4) Are you a woman who has never born a child? Y N
(5) If you have children, did you have your first child after the age of 30? Y N
(6) Is there any history of breast cancer in your mother’s family? Y N
(7) Did or does your mother has breast cancer? Y N
(8) Did any of your sisters have breast cancer? Y N
(9) Does your diet have high fat content? Y N
(10) Do you feel or have you ever felt lump in your breast? Y N
(11) Is there any swelling in your breast? Y N
(12) Do you now notice a retraction of your nipple? Y N
(13) Do you notice any bleeding from your nipples? Y N
(14) Have you ever received high doses of radiation of lung tumour Y N
Or any other treatment?
(15) Are you currently taking or have you in the past taken Y N
To find out the chances that you may now, or in the future have cancer of the breast, add up all items you have encircled Y. The following tablets indicates the likelihood of having breast cancer:
12- 15 extremely likely
8 – 11 moderately likely
4- 7 safely average
0- 3 very unlikely