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Breast Cancer Doesn't Have to be Painful

Breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention have come along way in just a few decades.  Even though breast cancer is becoming more common (1 in 8 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis every year), prevention tools, early detection screenings, and ever-advancing treatment options have never been more available.  The good news is that deaths from breast cancer have decreased by a significant 40% between 1989 and 2016! 

Even with promising trends in breast cancer research and treatment outcomes, receiving a cancer diagnosis of any kind can turn your life upside down for a time. Treatment for breast cancer can mean chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, or other modalities and can cause massive body changes.  

At Miologi, our goal is to provide reliable information on a variety of health conditions and diseases.  We are a collective of knowledgeable professionals dedicated to posting high-quality content on wellness-related challenges and shining light on several different treatment modalities. 

The Genesis of Breast Cancer

Cancer of every kind is defined as an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the body.  In a breast cancer diagnosis, these “rogue” cells develop in breast tissue. A cancer cell is a normal cell that is mutated. This means the cell DNA (the genetic material inside a cell) in a cancer cell is different from healthy-cell DNA. 

Certain types of DNA mutation can enhance a cell’s ability to reproduce and dampen its ability to slow down cell division or growth.  When cells cannot slow their growth internally, they increase in number and keep living past their “sell-by” date.  When cancer cells accumulate like this, tumors can form in the body and begin to affect healthy cells adversely.  

These cell mutations can happen as a result of a genetic tendency (the variation runs in your family), or because of an external trigger like exposure to radiation or certain toxic materials like asbestos or other carcinogens.  Hormones and lifestyle choices like poor nutrition are also thought to play a role in the development of cancer, but scientists still have a lot of questions about how this happens.

Interestingly, environmental and lifestyle factors appear to have a more significant role in DNA mutations in breast tissue than inherited mutations.  This fact means that even though breast cancer is highly prevalent, it may also be more preventable than some other types of cancer.  

Breast Cancer Types

The two most common types of breast cancer begin in the milk ducts of the breast (ductal carcinoma) and the milk-producing glands of the breast (lobular carcinoma.) Less common breast cancer types can start in the lymph nodes around the breast (lymphomas) or sarcomas in the epithelial tissues of the chest. 

In many instances, the most common types of breast cancers produce lumps in the breast. However, it is essential to remember that breast cancer does not always create lumps that can be felt, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Cancer that is localized to one area of the body is “in-situ.”  If cancer has spread to other surrounding body tissues, it is “infiltrating” or “invasive.” 

Breast Cancer Symptoms, Signs, and Risk Factors

Being familiar with your body, including pain in your breasts, can be a critical factor in early detection of breast cancer.  One of the most common signs of the disease is a new lump in the breast or surrounding tissue. Usually, the lump is painless, but sometimes it can be tender or even painful.  

Palpitating (feeling) all around the breast for signs of change can help you to stay alert for lumps.  Regular mammograms can establish a “baseline” for your healthy breasts as well as detecting lumps before they are large enough to feel under the skin. Your doctor needs to know right away if you notice any changes in your breast tissue. Diagnosing breast cancer as early as possible may go a long way toward a successful treatment outcome.

Other symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • Breast swelling
  • Nipple discharge not linked with breastfeeding
  • Changes in breast skin like scaliness or thickening
  • Nipples that turn inward

Even though conditions other than cancer can cause these symptoms, it is imperative to keep your doctor in the loop if you notice any changes in your breasts. 

Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Heredity/family history
  • Smoking
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Being female (a small number of males develop breast cancer too)
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy recipients
  • Pregnancy History
  • Age (66% of breast cancer affects women over 55)
  • Breastfeeding history (women who breastfeed for one year+ reduce their breast cancer risk
  • Menstruation history--women who begin early (before age 12) and end late (after age 55) are at higher breast cancer risk.

Breast Cancer Treatment

There are two broad categories for breast cancer treatment:  Local and systemic. 

Local treatments are performed on the breast tissue itself and include:

  • Lumpectomy removes the malignant tissue, and the rest of the breast is preserved
  • Mastectomy removes one or both breasts as well as any affected tissue like lymph nodes.
  • Breast reconstruction surgery (after a cancerous breast is removed, further surgery may be an option to restore the look of a breast with implants or adipose tissue.)
  • Radiation, either internal or external, to target and destroy cancer cells with or without accompanying surgery

Systemic treatments target the whole body and can reach cancer cells wherever they are.  These treatments are taken either intravenously or by mouth. Systemic therapies include:

  • Chemotherapy--cancer-killing or tumor-shrinking chemicals
  • Hormone therapy--to prevent cancer from recurring or to treat recurring types of cancer
  • Immunotherapy--medicine that helps our body recognize and destroy cancer cells on its own.

Breast Cancer Prevention?

Though there is no guarantee that you will never develop breast cancer, the best defense is just that---a great defense!  Making lifestyle changes to eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, and get regular exercise position our bodies for optimal function and reduce carcinogens in our systems.  

Knowing your family history and exploring genetic mutation testing may help you mount an offensive wellness strike if you know you are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.

Becoming familiar with the size, shape, and feel of your breasts can increase your awareness of any changes occurring in your breasts. This may lead you to the doctor sooner rather than later for early diagnosis. 

Final Remarks

At Miologi, we welcome the opportunity to keep you informed, and we encourage you to be proactive about your own wellness as you embrace an optimized lifestyle.