October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It highlights the fact that Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women. Did you know that it affects more than 15,000 Australians every year?
Ongoing research by our nation’s experts is discovering how and why breast cancers start. This extensive research is helping to advance better treatments for breast cancer.
Current Breast cancer research is focussing on:
Breast cancer occurs from cells from within the breast accumulate and changes their DNA. These genetic mutations allow them to grow in an uncontrolled manner and we see Breast Cancer as a result.
The breast, when healthy is designed and works to produce and secrete milk from the nipple. Many breast cancers start with cells in the breast ducts, which would usually transport milk to the nipple. Some cancers develop from cells in the milk-producing lobules themselves. It is unusual for cancers to come from other structures in the breast such as fat or lymphatic vessels.
Breast cancers begin as a small, confined tumour. These tumours can then grow and spread throughout the breast. Early growths that are ‘pre-invasive’ as they have not left the ducts are termed DCIS, short for ‘Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Invasive cancers are often described as ductal or lobular, based on their appearance using a microscope.
Some breast cancer cells may develop further changes that then results in their escape from the breast. They travel through lymphatic vessels to lymph nodes, or they may spread through the blood to other organs. This process is called ‘metastasis’.
Most breast cancers arise ‘spontaneously’, with no identifiable reason. Around 5% of Australian breast cancer cases are ‘hereditary’, they are passed by family members. This means the patient carries an inherited breast cancer risk gene, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. This puts them at elevated risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Other factors that increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer include:
Breast cancers that are confined to the breast, or have not spread beyond the lymph nodes can often be cured. Treatment depends on the precise tumour features and may include:
You should speak to your GP if you are concerned. They can, very quickly test and advise the next course of action.
Metastatic breast cancer, which has spread further in the body, is often treated with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. The treatment chosen will depend on the tumour itself and the patient
In some cases, treatments are designed to target particular molecules that are promoting cancer growth.
Some of the signs to look out for which may indicate Breast Cancer include:
The most effective way to detect the signs of Breast Cancer is self-examination. You should LOOK at the shape and appearance of your breasts and nipples. Use a mirror with your hands by your sides.
Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, so get to know your normal. See your doctor if you notice any changes. What to do if you have concerns?
If you have any concerns at all you should make an appointment to visit your GP or a clinic that specialises in Women’s Health. Women’s Health Hub will be happy to help you! Either will be able to refer you to the right people for correct investigation. They will also be able to show you how to self-examine which is the most vital step in maintaining the health of your breasts.
Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian) What you eat during pregnancy affects your developing baby.
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