This week saw the World Health Organization celebrate the International Day Against Breast Cancer. It is the most common type of cancer among women and accounts for around 30% of all female tumours. This year, it is estimated that 281,5000 women in the United States of America will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and 49,290 with the non-invasive form. This is likely to cause 44,130 deaths this year alone.
There are a number of risk factors which can increase the likelihood of women developing breast cancer. The largest factors include age, a personal and familial history of cancer, and an inherited genetic predisposition to breast cancer. The most common genetic mutations are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which fail to stop cells from growing incorrectly and becoming cancerous. Other, smaller, risk factors include a late menopause, pregnancies over the age of 35, birth control medication, and lifestyle factors such as obesity, sedentary livelihoods, and excessive alcohol. It is important for women to remember that no single factor is likely to cause cancerous growths, rather a combination of the aforementioned factors will work in conjunction to cause breast cancer. Therefore, it is common for women to incorrectly perceive no obvious personal risk. It is important for women to remain acutely aware of changes in their breasts, to seek medical advice quickly, and to seek “mammograms” if they are concerned about their health. Mammograms are a form of x-ray which can detect tumours before they are large enough to be felt. For those wary of a genetic predisposition, a blood test called a “panel test” will alert them to the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In this scenario, a prophylactic mastectomy might be advised by medical experts.
In support of those affected by breast cancer, women across the world will wear pink ribbons for the rest of the month. The initiative was started by Alexandra Penney in 1992 and serves as a constant reminder of those who have lost their fight to cancer, and to encourage all women to regularly see their doctors.