To understand what breast cancer is, the first thing we would need to know is what a ‘cancer’ is exactly. Cancer is the name given to an abnormal growth of cells arising anywhere in the body which tend to multiply and grow uncontrollably and in some cases tend to spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, a breast cancer is simply an uncontrolled growth of cells in the breast.
It is important to have some knowledge about this particular cancer since it is known to be the most common form of cancer among women worldwide. It is also known to be the second most common cause of cancer death in women. It is possible for men to get breast cancer as well, and although it is not as common the outcome is more fatal. It has also been found that Caucasian women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than African or Asian women, but that the cancer is more severe in African women compared with Caucasian women.
In Malaysia as well, breast cancer is the leading overall cancer and the most common cancer in women of all races in a study done from 2003 -2005 (www.radiologymalaysia.org). It is most common in Chinese women, followed by Indian and the least common in Malay women. A Malaysian woman was found to have a 1/20 chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime and majority of cases were reported in women in their 50’s.
The exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown. What we know for sure is that it occurs due to an abnormal growth of cells, which unlike normal cells, keep on multiplying at a very fast rate and do not undergo cell death. Although the exact mechanism is still a mystery, research has shown several risk factors that might lead to breast cancer. The risk of getting breast cancer is higher in women and most common in women in their 50’s and 60’s. You are also at risk if you smoke, drink alcohol or have a history of long term use of contraceptives or oestrogen therapy. Also, if a first degree-relative, like your mother or sister, has a history of breast cancer, your chances of getting it increases. Although this is an undeniable fact, you should keep in mind that more than 85% of women who have this disease have no family history of breast cancer.
If you would like to know more about the risk factors, make sure to check out our article detailing the risk factors of breast cancer.
The severity of breast cancer can be reduced by early detection and treatment as this will prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. The cancer can spread through three pathways, that is, the tissue surrounding it, the lymph nodes and the blood. If it reaches the blood and spreads to other organs, mainly bones, lungs, liver or brain, the chances of survival decreases greatly. Therefore, the key to decreasing breast cancer deaths is to detect it early through regular screening.