Back To CoursePathophysiology Textbook
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It is the second most common cancer in women and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women. It is breast cancer, a malignant growth of abnormal cells within the breasts. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the U.S., for the year 2014, close to 300,000 new cases of varying types of breast cancer will be diagnosed and around 40,000 women will die from breast cancer. Men can also get breast cancer, but it is about 100 times more common in women.
So, any type of cancer development is a malignant (or bad) transformation of what used to be normal cells in the body. It is like a Transformer car going from being an innocent little street hybrid and with the push of a button turning into a big, bad monster. It used to be good, but no more.
To put it another way, when you inhale a cold or flu virus, you are attacked by something akin to a foreign invader brutalizing your land (your body) from the outside. But a cancer cell is like a normal person living in a country who then decides to transform into a terrorist and harm the country he calls home. You know how terrorists of any religious or political ideology completely misinterpret a text of some sort and have a really morphed mindset as a result?
Well, cancer cells skew the language and book of cells, called DNA, thanks to something we call mutations. These mutations in DNA allow once-normal cells to morph into really bad terroristic cells that then multiply and thereby pass on their skewed thoughts (the mutated DNA) to their offspring just like many terrorists pass on wicked thoughts to their children.
These offspring then multiply even more, causing the cancer cells to mass together into a community we call a lump, a malignant tumor - a.k.a. cancer. Eventually, some of the offspring get tired of being in one area hanging around their old folks and begin to spread out (i.e. metastasize) to other places around the body to cause more growth and terroristic harm in their new locations. Again, metastasis is the spread of cancer cells around the body.
There are many risk factors for this kind of malignant transformation of cells in your breasts. Some of them include:
Other concerns include:
... have all been associated with an increased risk for developing breast cancer
Now, the list I mentioned isn't complete, and it already looks pretty impressive and daunting in its scope. But there's much you can do to help try and prevent, or at the very minimum, catch this disease early. Just like with terrorists, there's a lot you can do to try and stop them and catch them early.
Make sure to engage in breast cancer screening, the details of which are left for another lesson. Screening for breast cancer is like using binoculars or using intelligence to spot terrorists early and stop them in their tracks before they get too close or too aggressive. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. When fighting bad guys, it's best to be strong and fast. Your body benefits from exercise in many different ways, as well.
Importantly, exercise helps you fight obesity, a risk factor for breast cancer. Another way to fight this is to eat fewer calories, less fat, and more grains, fruits, and vegetables. Furthermore, limit drinking alcohol, another one of our risk factors. Just like a drunk soldier can't really defend against an attacker very well, an inebriated body suffers much harm that can lead to cancer (not just breast cancer, by the way).
Additionally, the use of postmenopausal hormone therapy and oral contraceptives should be carefully evaluated by a doctor, as they seem to increase the chances of breast cancer development in some women. However, the risks vs. rewards in such instances must be decided on a case-by-case basis for a number of different valid reasons we just don't have time for right now. Finally, there are two more preventative strategies of note that should only be used in special circumstances where a person is at a high risk of developing breast cancer.
One of these strategies is called chemoprevention, the use of medication to try and prevent cancer before it even starts. It's like using education to try and stop a terrorist mindset from ever occurring. Such medication seeks to block a hormone called estrogen, shown to play an important role in some forms of breast cancer.
The other special circumstance preventative strategy is called a prophylactic mastectomy, the removal of healthy breasts to prevent the development of breast cancer. In this case, we get rid of any possible spot the breast cancer can call home in the future. It's like getting rid of a small mountain because you know some terrorists may one day use caves there as a place to develop, train, and attack.
Breast cancer is a malignant growth of abnormal cells within the breasts. If you ever hear it being referred to as a malignant tumor, just remember that this terminology means it's a cancer. Cancer has a defining characteristic that benign (a.k.a. non-malignant) tumors do not. It is the property of metastasis, the spread of cancer cells around the body.
Cancer develops as a result of errors in the language of cells, the DNA, with mutations that cause cells to multiply out of control and spread to places in the body where they normally shouldn't be found. Risk factors for the development of breast cancer include:
Preventative strategies aim to reverse obesity, increase exercise, and limit drinking alcohol. But those are good strategies for a healthy life in general! For breast cancer, two special preventative strategies exist for women at high risk of developing breast cancer. They are chemoprevention, the use of medication to try and prevent cancer before it even starts, and prophylactic mastectomy, the removal of healthy breasts to prevent the development of breast cancer.
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Back To CoursePathophysiology Textbook
20 chapters | 274 lessons