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Breast Cancer: Early Detection & Prevention

Dr. Karol M.D Article by: Dr. Karol M.D
Date: Oct 08, 2014 · Posted in: Women's Health
Breast Cancer: Early Detection & Prevention

Despite research advancements, 14 women die from breast cancer in Canada every day. This is a staggering number, considering our relatively low population and reproductive rate. What can women do to protect themselves from this terrible disease? My answer is prevention, prevention, prevention. 


Breast Cancer Statistics

· In 2014, an estimated 24, 400 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,000 will die from it.

· Approximately 67 Canadian women a day will be diagnosed with breast cancer

· Approximately 14 Canadian women a day will die of breast cancer

· 1 in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime (up until the age 90) and 1 in 29 will die from it.

· It is expected that 210 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 60 will die from it.


Early Detection

Thanks to improvements in screening, detection and treatment, the 5-year survival rate for men is 80% and 88% for women. Research is making a difference. Prophylactic tests for breast cancer are capable of detecting the cancer at its very early stages, which can increase the chances of survival and remission.

Every woman should begin yearly mammograms at the age of 50. If multiple tests come back negative, the tests can be reduced to once every 2 years. For women with a family history of this cancer or with confirmed BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, (these mutations increase the chances of getting breast cancer and their detection can be performed by taking a blood sample), the tests should begin at the age 40 and performed yearly.


Mammograms

Mammography is an X-ray picture of the breast. It can detect the changes in tissue produced by cancers. These can be inflammation, connective tissue formation or calcifications. In any case, early detection (when the cancer is smaller than a thumbnail) increases the chances of survival dramatically after surgery. And the surgery in this case does not involve the traumatic removal of the entire breast or the removal of lymph nodes in the armpit region, which can cause fluid accumulation problems and extreme pain.

Self-Examination

Of equal importance is self-breast examination. Women should regularly examine their breasts by massaging each breast deeply and thoroughly to feel for any hardness, nodules, or anything that is not soft and uniform. Any discoveries should be immediately reported to the family physician, who will then take the necessary diagnostic steps.

Estrogen’s Role

Estrogen is the female hormone. It is responsible for the female physical characteristics and for regulating the menstrual cycle. Too much of it can cause breast tissue to proliferate (i.e., make the cells of the breast grow and divide) which can predispose to cancer. Cancer is nothing more than a group of cells that have lost control of dividing and dying. They divide uncontrollably with unlimited survival. Eventually, these cells start damaging normal surrounding tissue, leading to the demise of normal tissues and organs and, ultimately, to death.

In general, pregnancy protects from breast cancer because estrogen is low during this time. Birth control pills contain estrogen, so they increase this risk slightly. Smoking while taking birth control pills increases the risk of blood clots substantially, which can lead to heart attacks, respiratory failure or strokes. Smoking also increases the risk of breast cancer on its own, just like it increases the risk of all other cancers. Therefore, if you have not been pregnant for a long time, if you are taking birth control pills, or you are regularly taking some phytoestrogens like soy products, for example, then you should heed my advice even more.

Next week, I’ll talk about natural health products that protect against breast cancer as well as cosmetic toxins and chemicals, which can increase the risk.

See you next time.

Dr. Karol, MD