Q & A: Breast Cancer Awareness

Q & A: Breast Cancer Awareness

The big talk amongst women is Breast Cancer. Most women know plenty of other women who suffer or suffered from a breast cancer diagnosis. 

Q: How common is breast cancer? Is it really that easy to develop?

The national risk for all women in the U.S. to develop breast cancer in their lifetime is 8%. It’s higher of course if it runs in your family, and even higher if you have first degree relative like a mother, sister, or daughter with it. The risk goes up the younger the first-degree relative is when she receives a diagnosis.

For example, if you have a sister with breast cancer who was diagnosed at age 30, it’s more likely you may develop it than if your grandma got it at 70. Age indicates likeliness of it being genetic compared to being caused by old age. It’s said that if you live long enough most women will get breast cancer and most men will get prostate cancer. This is not likely to be genetic but just due to aging of your cells, therefore, does not put the relative at significant increased risk (in this case the granddaughter of the 70 year who got breast cancer).

Q: How exactly does one get breast cancer?

The cells in your breast go awry and start multiplying without the normal controls. The body normally allows cells to multiply when it needs in certain areas like your intestines or hair because you are constantly losing cells there and they need to be replaced. But cancer happens when a massive cell duplication occurs but is not needed and then takes over the normal cells and kills them.

Q: What happens to your body when you have breast cancer?

Your Normal cells start to die and these abnormal cells take over, but they can’t run you body like the normal cells do so slowly you body becomes unable to function like it’s intended to and dies.

Q: What does it mean when doctors say there are stages to breast cancer?

This is a way to describe the level or amount of cancer one has. It usually also correlates with the chances of survival a cancer patient has and the chance of being able to get rid of all the cancer and not have a re-occurrence.

For example stage 3 or 4 or usually worse, meaning the person has a lot of cancer, and has likely spread to other body organs. The likelihood of getting rid of all the cancer and not have it come back is low. And the chance of survival is 5 years or less.

Example, stage one breast cancer might have a 95% 5-year survival where stage four has only 20% in some types of breast cancer.

Q: What are some things that women can do in there everyday life that might contribute to developing breast cancer? What should they minimize or cut out?

We don’t understand everything about breast cancer and what causes it or what can prevent it 100%. Certainly, genetics plays a role and one does not have control of the outcome. If you know you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer who acquired it at a young age (under 40) you should come in for some counseling by one of our doctors to see if you would be a good candidate for a genetic test called BRCA testing. There are also other tests that could identify you as having a very high risk to developing breast cancer in your life and at a young age. Then, depending on your results, you might consider drastic measures such as a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction as a way to prevent it. Some celebrities have done this, one is Angelina Jolie.

Other than that not smoking or drinking alcohol in excesses would help greatly. Also watching your weight as we believe the extra fat cells in an overweight person produces extra estrogen- a female hormone that at high prolong levels can stimulate the breast cells to turn into cancer. Also using hormone therapy such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could also increase the risk for breast cancer as these also stimulate the breast cells which might stimulate cancer.

Q: Dr. Helliwell, What are recognizable symptoms that I should come get checked out?

Check if you feel a new lump in your breast, particularly if it’s growing in size. Look for bloody nipple discharge or skin changes on the breasts that look like a rash or discoloration. You should always check the armpit areas for these things too as their is breast tissue there that can develop cancer.

Do not forget to have a year breast exam by your Ob/GYN and try to do monthly self-breast exams. If you are over the age 40 you should start screening mammograms looking for early signs of breast cancer every 1-2 years. If you have a 1st degree relative with breast cancer that developed before age 40 you should start screening mammograms 5 years before the age they were diagnosed.

Q: Anything else a doctor wants women to know about breast cancer?

Yes. It is  important to get your yearly breast exams and mammograms if you are over age 40, even if you don’t feel that you need it or think that the mammogram machine hurts or squeezes your breast too much. These are truly life-saving tests that make a difference in diagnosing early breast cancer every day for women everywhere.

Also don’t believe that mammograms give you “extra radiation” that can cause cancer. This has never been proven scientifically. They have studies showing that the amount of radiation a woman receives from a monogram (which is only done once a year after age 40) is less than the amount of radiation you get by sitting outside in the sun for a 1/2 day. It’s ridiculous to think mammograms cause cancer, instead, they are vital to catching cancer and saving lives.

Of course God is in control and sovereign over our lives and bodies. He still wants us to take care of our bodies and be proactive. With that, we are doing our part to honor Him through our health and receive his blessings. – Dr. Helliwell 

Breast Cancer is something common enough that it should push women into taking action to watch, prevent and treat breast cancer, if necessary. It’s always something that is happening to someone else, right? Be proactive and take the steps necessary to ensure optimal breast health.

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