I am a young woman yet to enter the child birth phase yet I wonder a lot; if my babies will suck the life out of my breasts. Of course some years ago mothers used to breast feed their babies for as long as they had milk while they weaned, but modern society has been taught to breast feed for at most six months. This brings me to other reasons why I worry about having breasts –breast cancer.
The Many Cancer Questions
Types: Cancer comes in different ways and honestly I think new ones crop up each day. Common cancers include; lung cancer, anal cancer, breast cancer, adrenal cancer, skin cancer, the list could be endless really.
What causes cancer? Known causes of cancer include genetics, lifestyle factors like smoking tobacco, diet and physical activity, some infections and chemical radiation.
Breast cancer is seemingly one of the most common cancers with a large number of African women suffering from this condition –diagnosed and undiagnosed. This does not exclude men from falling prey to this after all, all men still have breasts. When the cells in the breast begin to grow out of control they form tumors.
These tumors may be malignant or benign. Malignant tumors are the cancerous ones which can break away and spread to other areas of the body and cause havoc there too. Most breast cancers start from the ducts that carry milk to the nipples (ductal cancers). Others from the gland that produces the breast milk (lobular cancers).
It’s important to note that not all breast cancers come with lumps though lumps in ones breast are often assumed as the only symptoms to look out for. Sometimes lumps are benign and not cancerous, just abnormal growths. They still increase a person’s risk of getting breast cancer.
Main risk factors for breast cancer include; being a woman, aging, drinking alcohol, being overweight, having children, using birth control, not breast feeding long enough, having dense breast tissue and genetics either familial or mutated. See Risk factors of breast cancer. These however does not spell doom to all growing women.
Early stages may show no lump because it may be too small to feel or cause changes to notice on your own. The first symptom is mostly a lump the individual or doctor can feel. The following could also be symptoms of breast cancer: swelling of part or all of the breast, breast pain, nipple pain, redness or thickening of nipple or breast skin, nipple discharge other than breast milk and lump in the underarm.
Treating breast cancer in females has different approaches which include; surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and biological therapy
Surgery is usually the first type of treatment for breast cancer. The types of surgery are; removing the lump only, known as breast conserving surgery or removing the whole breast which is called a mastectomy.
Breast conserving surgery ranges from removing just the lump, the lump and a little extension around it to removing up to a quarter of the breast. This is dependent on the type of cancer, size of the tumor, amount of tissue surrounding tissue that needs to be removed and the size of the breasts.
Mastectomy involves removing the breast tissue and sometimes the lymph nodes in the under arm. After the breast are removed reconstructive surgery can be carried out simultaneously or at a later time.
Radiotherapy is the use of radiations to treat and kill all forms of cancer cells. It is commonly done after surgery. It can be done to the whole breast, the chest wall or the armpit area.
Chemotherapy involves using cytotoxic (anti-cancer) medication to kill cancer cells. It may be done before surgery to shrink the tumor (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy) or after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy). It is also an outpatient therapy which will reduce hospitalization. These drugs may however be given via a drip too once every 2 or 3 weeks over a few hours for about 4 to 8 months to give the body rest. Common medications used here include fluorouracil , methotrexate and cyclophosphamide .
Hormone therapy includes the removal of the ovaries through surgery or chemotherapy to top the hormone production. It can be used alone where other treatment options are not suitable. Oestrogen and progesterone are the dominant hormones in women and is suspected to stimulate breast cancer growth.
It is added to chemotherapy and both are used after surgery for management. This will reduce the production of hormone or stop its effects. Common medications used here include Tamoxifen ,anastroler,exemestane and letrozole.
Biological therapy is another treatment approach for breast cancer. Here medications attack the human epidermal growth factor 2 and stop its effects. A typical example is Trastuzumab
Like all other cancers the stage will determine the treatment required. Surgery and radiotherapy is enough for a local therapy. If the cancer is spread, systemic treatments may be needed and this involves chemotherapy, hormone therapy and biological therapies. See stages of breast cancer.
Cost Of Treatment
The cost of breast cancer treatment and follow up care can be a financial strain for patients and their families. Breast cancer is a disease which could be treated with expensive surgery then some medication for maintenance. This is all dependent on the stage of the cancer. Increased stage of diseases implies increased cost while earlier diagnosis seems to decrease costs involved.
In 2010 the costs of treatment in the United States was about $16.5 billion and is expected to increase to $20.5 billion by 2020. Breast cancer cost increase with survival. The average cost per patient between stages 1 and 2 was about $82,121 and stage 3 was about $129,387 in that same year. Health insurance is available for patients in the United States.
In Ghana, Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital is the most easily accessible public health facility with a cancer center. Drugs are required daily if tablets are being used. Breast cancer is hardly treated with monotherapy and tablets are given mostly in combination before or after surgery or radiotherapy.Each drug can cost between GH¢ 200 and GH¢700 each month. For chemotherapy, a drug vial can cost as low as GH¢8000 and this is used in a space of about 8 or 9 weeks of sessions and if several combinations are being used it can all lead to almost GH¢30,000.
You have some control
Is there a way perhaps I could escape this predicament? Breast cancer cannot be prevented but reducing risk is possible, it starts with a person’s diet. Eating right, reducing alcohol consumption, regular exercising and it is important that nursing mothers’ breast feed .