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

Breast cancer, like any other type of cancer, starts when cells begin to grow out of control, forming a tumour. Most often, these are seen on an X-ray or felt as a lump. The most common types of breast cancers are ductal, that is, they begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple. Some also start in the glands that make breast milk. These are known as lobular cancers. Untreated, breast cancer can also spread into the lymph system and get carried to other parts of the body.

Despite the fact that most cases of breast cancer occur in women, men are also susceptible. Statistics show that approximately 2,550 cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in the year 2018. This is precisely why men, as well as women, should also be aware of symptoms, risk factors and preventive measures.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is the development of a new lump or mass. This could be soft or hard, painful or even painless, so, it is important to have any new breast mass checked immediately. Importantly however, lumps are not the only sign of breast cancer. Other signals include 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. To date, the exact cause of breast cancer is not clear. However, certain risk factors have been identified.

“Adopting some lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing it. These include cutting down on alcohol and sugar consumption, following a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, making regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body mass index.”

The first and most common factor is genetics. When a close relative has had breast cancer the potential for breast cancer diagnosis is higher, while the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, can also be inherited, causing breast cancer to the women who carry them. Another factor is having a history of breast cancer or breast lumps. If a woman has had breast cancer before, she is more likely to develop it again. Having dense breast tissue is another factor that has been reported to cause breast cancer. Women exposed to oestrogen for long periods of time are also known to have an increased chance of developing the disease.

This explains why mothers who breastfeed for more than one year have less chances of developing breast cancer, since breastfeeding decreases women’s oestrogen levels, while women on hormone treatments or birth control pills, which contain high levels of oestrogen, have a higher risk. Oestrogen levels are also linked to obesity which is why overweight women increase their chances of developing the disease. High sugar and alcohol intake has also been linked to cancer in general.

Another surprising factor is radiation exposure. Strange as this may sound, being exposed to radiation to treat any other type of cancer can cause cancer to develop in the breast in particular. One last factor is age; risk tends to increase with every decade. Although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, or any other type of cancer, for that matter, adopting some lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing it. These include cutting down on alcohol and sugar consumption, following a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, making regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body mass index.

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