Breast cancer, as the name suggests, is a cancer that affects the breasts or mammary glands. It is the second most popular cancer after lung cancer and is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths world -wide.
On a global scale breast cancer is the most common cancer amongst women. According to estimates, in the 2004 alone breast cancer caused 519,000 deaths worldwide. Contrary to popular belief that it is a woman’s affliction, it can affect both men and women.
Breast cancer incidence varies vastly worldwide. It is significantly higher in the developed countries of the world in comparison to the less-developed ones
Breast cancer incidence also increases with age; hence the older the woman, the more aggressive the evaluation techniques employed. Nevertheless, younger women with breast lumps are at a far greater risk for breast cancer in comparison to asymptomatic women of the same age group, and to older women.
Highest Risk Groups for breast cancer include older patients who are North Americans, those who have two first-degree relatives with early onset breast cancer and those who already had breast cancer.
A combination of enviornmental factors and genes are responsible for this cancer.A mutation in the tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are implicated in this cancer. Obesity, alcoholism, nulliparity and high fat diet are some of the environmental factors that can increase the risk for breast cancer.
Breast lumps need to be taken seriously because the vast majority of breast cancers are detected by the patients themselves, rather than by the doctors, through self examination. If discovered early, smaller lumps are likely to have better prognosis in comparison to the larger ones.
Non palpable lesions that may be malignant can also be detected during a routine mammography.
Breast cancer is one of the oldest cancers known to man. However, it is only with the modern understanding of the systemic nature disease that effective treatments began to evolve.
Staging is the most decisive factor with regard to prognosis , as it takes into consideration the size of the tumor, lymph node status, local involvement and the metastatic nature of the disease. The greater the stage at diagnosis, the poorer is the prognosis. Staging also helps to decide on the mode of treatment and the level of aggression required.
When the cancer is confined to the breast and the nearby lymph nodes it is considered as early stage breast cancer, which has a good prognosis. If it has spread to other body parts then it is late or advanced stage cancer, with poor prognosis.
Younger women tend to have poorer prognosis in comparison to post-menopausal women as they are usually at a far advanced stage when diagnosed.