Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breast cancer basics

Yet another day I'm sitting in the apartment feeling like someone's beat me up. The nose isn't running, and I'm not sneezing as much. But it's all in my throat now. I've got very little voice, and the coughing fits are horrendous. They're bad enough that it's triggered a migraine. So today I have the great accomplishments of taking a shower, emailing my dad, and getting a Catalan-cuisine lunch: toast w/ 5 local cheeses and seasoned garbanzo beans w/ tomatoes, onion, and hard-boiled egg.

But while I sit here waiting for my migraine meds to kick in so I can bend over without passing out, and listen to a commentary track from LOTR, I find myself crying. Between the migraine, the frustration at having only 2 decent archive days in 8 work days, and concern for Mom and Dad, it's a hard afternoon. So to try to at least write something useful, here's another installment of cancer awareness.

Breast Cancer Basics, Part 1 (thanks to info from the American Cancer Society

1. What is breast cancer?
--A malignant tumor (cells gone wild) that grows in the breast, typically either in the lobules (glands that produce milk) or ducts (that carry milk to nipple). In men, breast cancer often occurs in the small number of ducts they have, since they have very, very few lobules.

2. Two Starting Points
--Breast cancer most often is a carcinoma: it begins in the lining layers of the breast, rather than in connective tissues (like muscles, fatty tissue, or blood vessels), which would be called sarcoma. Since both ducts and lobules are glandular tissues, breast cancer is usually considered an adenocarcinoma - cancer that starts in the glandular tissue.

3. Types of Breast Cancer
--There are multiple types of breast cancer. The least invasive kinds are in situ - either Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) or Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS). In these, the cancer has not spread beyond the tissue of either the duct or the lobules. Some doctors see LCIS as pre-cancerous condition rather than a true cancer.
--About 80% of invasive (spreading) cancers in both males and females are Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). Cancer starts in the ducts and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. Invasive Lobule Carcinoma (ILC) is much less common, accounting for only 2% of male breast cancer and 10% for women.
--About 1-3% of breast cancer is Inflammatory Breast Cancer. There is no tumor, but the breasts become red, swollen, warm, and the skin becomes itchy, hard, tender, or thick and pitted.

4. How Common is Breast Cancer?
--Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for American women, behind only lung cancer.
--The American Cancer Society predicts that around 192,000 women and around 1,900 men will have been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
--The ACS also predicts that around 40,000 women and 400 men will die of breast cancer this year.

5. What are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer for Women?
--Female Gender - breast cancer is ~100 times more common in women than men
--Aging - women over the age 55 are at higher risk
--Genetics - researchers believe women who have mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have up to an 80% chance of developing breast cancer
--Family or personal history of cancer - Women with a close family member (sister, mother, daughter) with breast cancer double their risk of developing breast cancer.
--Race - While caucasian women are more likely to get breast cancer, African American women are more likely to die of it.
--Dense breast tissue
--Some Benign breast changes
--Early menstruation or late menopause - the greater the amount of estrogen, the greater the risk
--Earlier breast radiation
--Not having children or having them after age 30 - again, they think that perhaps having more menstrual cycles means more estrogen, which means a greater risk.
--Use of HRT (hormone replacement therapy - yet again, more estrogen
--Alcohol use - women who regularly have 2-5 drinks per day have 1.5 times greater risk
--Being obese, overweight, or not exercising

6. What are the Risk Factors for Men?
--Family history
--Genetic changes - same genes as for women - BRCA1 and BRCA2
--Klinefeler Disease - congenital disorder where men have multiple X chromosomes, and thus more estrogen
--Radiation exposure on the chest
--Heavy alcohol use
--Liver Disease - yet again, leads to hormonal fluctuation and higher estrogen levels
--Estrogen treatments

7. What can I do to lower my risk?
--Maintain a healthy weight
--Limit your alcohol intake
--Exercise regularly
--If you are at a higher risk due to some of the above factors, do regular self-exams and get regular exams from your doctor.
--There are other, more extensive preventive measures, but they are fairly drastic: preventive "chemoprevention," preventive mastectomies, preventive hysterectomy

More will probably follow. I feel like all I can do is try to share awareness and pray Mom becomes one of the miracle survival stories.

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