What are the causes of breast cancer?
Experts are not sure what causes breast cancer. It is hard to say why one person develops the disease while another does not. We know that some risk factors can impact on a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer.
Getting older – the older a woman gets, the higher is her risk of developing breast cancer’ age is a risk factor. Over 80% of all female breast cancers occur among women aged 50+years (after the menopause).
Genetics – women who have a close relative who has/had breast or ovarian cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer. If two close family members develop the disease, it does not necessarily mean they shared the genes that make them more vulnerable, because breast cancer is a relatively common cancer.
The majority of breast cancers are not hereditary.
Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a considerably higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. These genes can be inherited. TP53, another gene, is also linked to greater breast cancer risk.
A history of breast cancer – women who have had breast cancer, even no-invasive cancer, are more likely to develop the disease again compared to women who have no history of the disease.
Having had certain types of breast lumps – women who have had some types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are more likely to develop cancer later on. Examples include atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ.
Dense breast tissue – women with denser breast tissue have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
Estrogen exposure – women who started having periods earlier or entered menopause later than usual have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This is because their bodies have been exposed to estrogen for longer. Estrogen exposure begins when periods start, and drops dramatically during the menopause.
Obesity – post menopausal obese and overweight women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Experts say that there are higher levels of estrogen in obese menopausal women, which may be the cause of the higher risk.
Alcohol consumption – the more alcohol a woman regularly drinks, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer is.
Radiation exposure – undergoing X-rays and CT scans may frequently raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer lightly. Scientists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that women who had been tr4ated with radiation to the chest for a childhood cancer have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
HRT (hormone replacement therapy) – both forms, combined and estrogen only HRT therapies may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Combined HRT causes a higher risk.
Diagnosing breast cancer
Women are usually diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine breast cancer screening or after detecting certain signs and symptoms and seeing their doctor about them.
If a woman detects any of the breast cancer signs and symptoms described above, she should speak to her doctor immediately. The doctor will carry out a physical exam, and then refer the patient to a specialist if he/she thinks further assessment is needed.
Some diagnostic tests and procedures for breast cancer:
Breast exam – the physician will check both the patient’s breast, looking out for lumps and other possible abnormalities such as inverted nipples, nipple discharge or change in breast shape. The patient will be asked to sit/stand with her arms in different positions, such as above her head and by her sides. This supplemented by a complete clinical history.
X-ray (mammogram) – commonly used for breast cancer screening. If anything unusual is found, the doctor may order a diagnostic mammogram, FNAC, Core cut biopsy, excision – biopsy etc. Breast self-exam.
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. Johns Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
Dr. Ajit Lukram
MBBS, DNB Gen Surgery
Conslutant GI & Gen. Surgeon
Fellow Colorectal, Breast & Endocrine, Carlisle, United Kingdom