Although in recent decades there has been a significant decrease in mortality from breast cancer, it is still the most common tumor and the leading cause of death from cancer among women.
It is a tumor that originates when the cells of the breast tissue begin to grow abnormally and uncontrolled, and can spread through the lymphatic or blood vessels and generate metastasis. That is why it is so dangerous if it is not diagnosed and treated in time.
Knowing the risk factors for developing it, its symptoms, its diagnosis and continuing to advance in increasingly personalized treatments is essential to improve both the prognosis and cure rates.
Risk factors beyond our control
The exact causes of breast cancer are not known, but there are several risk factors that increase the chances of developing the disease.
Age is the first of them. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, and in most cases the disease occurs in women over 50 years of age. The average age to suffer from breast cancer is 63 years, although it can also occur in elderly women.
Having a history of breast cancer in the family, as well as being a carrier of a genetic mutation that increases the risk, are factors that we cannot influence, but that should be known.
Another non-modifiable risk factor is the duration of the fertile stage: the earlier the age of the first period and the later the menopause, the greater the risk of developing this pathology.
Having received radiation, especially in the thoracic region, also increases the probability of suffering from breast cancer.
What we can avoid: overweight and alcohol abuse
The really interesting thing is knowing those risk factors on which we can intervene. Being overweight, for example, increases the possibility of developing breast cancer, so eating a balanced diet and maintaining an adequate weight are important preventive strategies. In addition, it is advisable to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, which increases the risk of suffering from the disease.
Breastfeeding children is another important protective factor. Promoting breastfeeding, in addition to providing benefits to newborns, improves the mother’s recovery after childbirth and reduces the incidence of breast cancer.
It has also been shown that physical activity works as a protective shield. A minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity reduces the probability of getting sick, while providing other well-known benefits such as improving blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and contributing to a good mood.
The earlier it is detected, the better
That we have recently managed to reduce mortality from breast cancer is due, among other things, to the early diagnosis of the disease. Especially population screening through mammography of asymptomatic women, which allows tumors to be diagnosed in early stages and improve their prognosis.
The frequency and type of follow-up will depend on the patient’s breast type, age, and risk factors. The ideal is to carry out follow-up in a Breast Unit where the personal characteristics of the patient are taken into account and radiologists specialized in breast are available, and with the possibility of completing the tests if necessary (with ultrasound, tomosynthesis, magnetic resonance , biopsies…).
Even if a patient does her periodic check-ups with the prescribed frequency, she should go to the doctor if she notices a nodule in the breast or armpit, if she has discharge from the nipple or if she notices nipple retraction or changes in the skin of the breast.
Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy
Beyond prevention, treatments have taken a giant leap. On the one hand, surgery is becoming more precise and with better aesthetic results. But in addition, armpit surgery is also increasingly conservative, with fewer sequelae for patients.
On the other hand, great advances in pathological anatomy and genomics make it possible to identify cellular targets on which to act with personalized medication. Thus, chemotherapy, if necessary, is increasingly more precise, and with fewer unwanted effects.
Similarly, radiotherapy can sometimes be limited to the diseased area of the breast, and even done through brachytherapy, a technique that allows the diseased breast to be specifically radiated, within 48 hours. Hormonal therapy, which is indicated in many breast tumors after the disease – 5 or 10 years – has been shown to reduce recurrences and increase survival.
Although breast cancer continues to be the most common malignant pathology among women, advances in early diagnosis and treatments invite us to trust that we can turn around its incidence.