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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

I briefly mentioned breast cancer in my previous post about colon cancer. Still, as I am sure you will agree, breast cancer deserves its own post.

Breast cancer (BC) develops from cancerous cells in the breast tissue (both women & men have breast tissue). Still, it typically develops in the lobules or ducts of the breast. The lobules & ducts are involved in breastfeeding. Yet, cancer can also develop in the fatty or connective tissue in the breast.

In the early stages of BC, the lump might be too small to be felt, but a mammogram should pick up any abnormal breast tissue. *Reminder that not all lumps are BC! But if you find one, you must consult your Dr & tell them about your family history.

Lumps are not the only sign; you must also look out for:

· Breast pain

· Red, pitted skin over the breast

· Swelling

· Nipple discharge

· Peeling, or flaking of the skin on the nipple(s)

· Sudden changes in the size of your breast

· Inverted nipples

· A lump or swelling under your arm

5-10% of BC are thought to be inherited. The main genes related to an increased risk of BC are BRCA1 & BRCA2. On average, a woman with a BRAC1/2 mutation has up to a 7 in 10 chance of developing BC by the age of 80; there is also an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The risk is also dependant on the family history of BC. SA women are at a 1 in 25 risk of developing BC in their lifetime.

Other genes involved include ATM, TP53, CHEK2, PTEN, CDH1. STK11 & PALB2. But these account for fewer BC cases than BRCA.

NB! Not all mutations are equal. Some mutations are very harmful & will cause more aggressive cancer at an earlier age. Still, some mutations are less or not harmful. Quite frustratingly, sometimes we just don’t know what the mutation means for the patient. If the lab reports that there isn’t enough info about that specific mutation to tell if it is cancerous or not, this is a VUS (a variant of unknown significance).

Now with better surveillance & treatment, more women are surviving BC. In America, the 1975 5-year survival rate was 75.2% & now its 90.6%. This depends on the type of BC & healthcare access. Early detection is key!

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