We will discuss what symptoms breast cancer can have, what affects the development of the disease, and what to do to reduce the risk.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46 years old. She went through two surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. That put me on the quest of figuring out how to NOT just screen for breast cancer but try to prevent it for me, personally, in the future. One of the causes I had to fix is estrogen dominance and thyroid hormone deficiency, which led, in my own case, to estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency.
Estrogen dominance is a condition when there are too many estrogens in the body relative to progesterone, resulting in a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms of estrogen dominance can vary greatly and can include irregular menstrual cycles, acne, mood swings, anxiety, depression, headaches, bloating, weight gain, fibroids, and more.
To fix this imbalance, I began taking the thyroid hormone to restore the balance in my body, as I had thyroid hormone deficiency. Progesterone deficiency was addressed with herbal supplements as I was young, and, fortunately, my body was able to bounce back, and my progesterone was at a great level without a need to take bioidentical progesterone and have two healthy pregnancies at what they call “advanced maternal age.” I also made changes to my diet and lifestyle, such as reducing stress and increasing exercise. I also took supplements such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins which can help balance hormones. After months of making these changes, I was able to restore balance and feel better overall.
What is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer (BC) is a disease that develops due to uncontrolled cell division.
The cause of cell dysfunction is the accumulation of mutations. The fact is that our DNA regularly breaks down, and the repair system corrects them. If there are many changes and they cannot be corrected, the cell dies so that a healthy one can take its place. In malignant tumors, this process is disrupted.
It happens that such breakdowns are fixed and transmitted to other cells. The more of them, the higher the likelihood of developing cancer, including breast cancer. Most breakdowns occur naturally, and their amount depends on environmental and lifestyle factors. But they can also be inherited.
From parents, a child can inherit a pathogenic variant of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast, ovarian, and other forms of cancer. But not just these genes increase the risk of breast cancer. There are several other genes that we know can increase the risks, as well as many more genes that we do not know yet.
Depending on the aggressiveness of cancer, the development of the disease can take from several months to several years. At an advanced stage, breast cancer metastasizes to the lungs, liver, bones, or brain and is difficult to treat.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in the world (after lung cancer). In Russia, among women, malignant breast tumors account for 21.1% of all oncological diseases.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Moreover, in 1% of cases, it occurs in men.
Signs of Breast Cancer
The higher the stage of the disease, the worse is the prognosis. Therefore, it is important to remember the symptoms and contact a specialist in a timely manner if they appear.
Signs of breast cancer that may occur as the disease progresses include:
- tightness in the chest,
- Change in the size and shape of the breast,
- Discharge from the mammary glands
- Pain in the chest or nipples
- skin color change,
- Pulling the nipple in
- Enlarged supraclavicular or axillary lymph nodes.
The presence of one or more symptoms does not allow unequivocally diagnosing breast cancer – this requires an additional examination. If you notice one of these signs in yourself, consult a mammologist or oncologist for advice.
In developed countries, in the case of early diagnosis, the survival rate for 5 years is 86-99%, in the later stages, this figure drops to 27%.
What Factors Affect the Risk of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a complex disease. Several factors influence the risk of developing it: family history, gender, age, hormone levels, and lifestyle.
Like any other cancer, breast cancer is associated with mutations in genes that control DNA error correction, cell division, life cycle, and cell death. Such genes are called proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.
The most famous example is BRCA1 and BRCA2. These are tumor suppressor genes – proteins that correct mutations in DNA and control cell division. Pathogenic mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes lead to the fact that proteins cease to perform their function, mutations accumulate in cells, they begin to divide uncontrollably, and do not die. In women, the risk of getting breast cancer before the age of 80, in this case, is about 70%.
Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. This means that one copy of a gene with a pathogenic mutation is enough for a high risk of developing cancer. The mutation can be inherited from both mother and father. In this case, it is precisely the high risk of developing cancer that is inherited, and not the disease itself: not all carriers of the mutation necessarily get sick.
Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes also increase the risk of other forms of cancer: ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate. If your family had many cases of cancer, the age of diagnosis was under 50; there were aggressive forms of cancer and primary multiple tumors, you may be a carrier of a mutation in these genes.
Back to estrogen levels. The risk of developing the disease is associated with increased levels of estrogen, a female hormone that is secreted by the ovaries. Its level rises with the onset of puberty, changes during the cycle, and decreases during pregnancy, lactation, and after menopause.
Factors that affect estrogen levels may increase the risk of breast cancer:
- Early onset of menstruation (up to 13 years);
- Late menopause (after 55 years);
- Lack of pregnancy and no breastfeeding;
- Obesity (excess estrogen accumulates in adipose tissue);
- The use of hormone drugs.
Hormonal medications include oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy after menopause. Oral contraceptives increase the risk of breast cancer by 20% while taking it, but after stopping, it drops to 7%.
An analysis of studies has shown that the risk of dying from breast cancer is higher in women who take a combination of estrogen and progesterone than in those who take only estrogen drugs.
Lifestyle and Environmental Factors
Breast cancer is a multifactorial disease, the development of which depends on both genes and lifestyle. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
In addition to lifestyle, the work environment also affects the risk of breast cancer. For example, women in certain professions are at higher risk due to night shifts, exposure to radiation, use of various chemicals, and stress.
It is currently being studied whether air pollution affects the development of the disease. Scientists suggest that this may increase the risk of the disease, especially if a woman was exposed to chemicals from factories and exhaust gases at an early age. However, there are still little data to assess the contribution of this factor.
How to Lower your Risk of Breast Cancer
Prevention cannot fully guarantee protection against breast cancer, but in general, it can reduce the risk of the disease and increase the likelihood of early diagnosis and therefore cure.
Comprehensive genetic screening for mutations associated with breast cancer risk helps assess the overall contribution of genetics and make prevention decisions.
The test is primarily suitable for those who have had cases of breast and ovarian cancer in the family, as well as patients in the early stages of breast cancer, in order to plan the extent of the operation. In the case of patients with metastatic disease, the test system will help select targeted therapy.
There is still a lot of controversy around this diagnostic and screening method in the professional community, but in general, mammography is considered an effective method for the early detection of breast cancer and is recommended every year for women over 40. In addition to mammography, a doctor may prescribe an MRI and an ultrasound.
Self-examination and examination by a doctor
Although the effectiveness of self-examination has not been proven, the World Health Organization has left it as a recommendation for prevention. According to WHO, self-examination in general, raises awareness of breast cancer and helps to learn about other methods of prevention.
Examination by a doctor includes palpation. The doctor examines and feels the chest and armpits, thereby checking for the presence of a tumor and damage to the lymph nodes. To do this, the specialist uses a special palpation technique.
Examination with palpation by a doctor is recommended once every 1-3 years, from 25 to 40 years.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising moderately, and avoiding smoking and alcohol reduce the risk of breast cancer and other cancers.
Decrease Alcohol. Try to consume no more than 1 serving of alcohol if you decide to drink. A serving is 5 ounces of any wine, 1 bottle of beer, 1 ounce of hard liquor. According to studies, 2-3 drinks of alcohol increase the risk of developing breast cancer by 20% compared to non-drinkers.
Be physically active. The American Cancer Society recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity. Moderate physical activity includes brisk walking, cleaning, dancing, active play with children, and walking with animals. To high intensity – running, swimming, cycling, aerobics, vigorous climbing uphill.
Watch your weight. Determine your body mass index using the calculator. A value greater than 25 means that there is excess weight. Try to prioritize vegetables, grains, beans, herbs, and fruits over prepared meals and fast food to stay fit or lose weight. Such foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for health.
This does not constitute medical advice; always seek the direct advice of your Doctor or Medical Provider for your specific health care or needs.
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