Written by Dr Abdulla El-Hossami, HEAD OF INTEGRATIVE ONCOLOGY ASIA PACIFIC Verita Life Thailand.

October, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an occasion that reminds us of the critical importance of having awareness of this ferocious disease and the undeniable correlation between awareness and treatment; the earlier the detection, the more effective the treatment. And a fast action only requires a high level of awareness. It is no secret that in the past few decades, cancer rates, in general have been on the rise all around the world, triggering more and more research digging deeper in the causes, prevention and treatment of all kinds of cancer. Here, we will shed some light on the breast cancer.

With the rising global rates of breast cancer, every woman should pay attention to the slightest changes occurring in her body, specifically her breasts. Growing a lump or a mass is not the only alarming sign which women should act upon finding. Other slighter symptoms must also be taken seriously. These include the swelling of all or part of a breast, skin irritation, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, redness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin and nipple discharge, other than breast milk.

Although people have developed more and more awareness of the disease and its symptoms, most people are still not aware of the most common factors that cause cancer. True that genetics, age and a history with the disease are common factors but they account for only around 3 out of 10 cases. There are more evasive causes which must be taken into account, being lifestyle and environment factors. It has been proven that women exposed to oestrogen for long periods of  time increase their chances of developing the disease. This explains why breastfeeding mothers for more than one year have less chances of developing breast cancer, since breastfeeding decreases women’s oestrogen levels. Whereas women on hormone treatments or birth control pills, which contain high levels of oestrogen, have a higher risk of developing it.

While still on this matter, oestrogen levels are also linked to obesity. Overweight women have higher levels of oestrogen, thus, developing higher chances. High sugar intake has also been linked to cancer in general. Studies have also shown a relation between alcohol consumption and cancer; the higher the intake, the higher the chances. So, it is high time we all start reconsidering our lifestyle and health habits. Just like any disease, cancer has stages of development based on how advanced the disease is.

So, when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, it is designated by a number from 0 to 4, with number 4 indicating the most advanced stage and 0 being the stage of the disease that is the easiest to be treated. That said, time is of the essence when it comes to the detection and diagnosis of cancer. The more time you wait, the faster the cancer grows and moves from an early stage into a more advanced one.

Also, breast cancer can be categorised into different types depending on the location of cancer and the receptors. Some cancers occur in the ducts of the breast and that is called ductal breast cancer. Whilst some occurs in the lobes of the breast and that is called lobular breast cancer. The receptors are the proteins found inside and around the breast cells and they are where our hormones and other proteins are attached to and signal to the cells to multiply. If we look at the receptors of the breast cancer cells, we will see that some are hormonal dependent and they can grow with hormones such as Oestrogen and Progesterone, whilst others are hormonal independent, and we call them a triple negative cancer.

This leads us to treatment options and what can be done once diagnosed. Treatments for breast cancer are in many options whether they will be surgery by removing the whole breast or just the tumour followed by the administration of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. If the cancer is hormonal dependent, as discussed above, then hormone suppressants can be added.

There are also the alternative treatments which play a positive role in the prognosis, from immunotherapies, herbal therapies to diet and lifestyle changes. As mentioned above, statistics show a rising rate of breast cancer worldwide. However, they also show an increased rate of survival. Credit should be given not only to the effectiveness and variety of treatments, but also to the increasing awareness amongst women of the early signs and symptoms, which used to be ignored in past decades, hence, leading to the early detection and treatment of the disease. It is therefore strongly advised to read the signals which your body sends you and not overlook any changes even the slightest ones. Nothing is too insignificant to be taken into consideration. Be alert and have a healthy life.

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