By definition, a cancer is a disease that is characterized by “controlled growth and spread of abnormal cells” (Laino, online). When such a growth takes place, the cancer cells form a tumor from which cells will invade the neighboring tissues and organs. Some of these cells may even travel through the blood or other means to attack other organs and tissues in the body (Laino, online).
Different cancers have claimed several million lives over the years. In the 1980s, more than 4.5 million people died in the US alone. In the past few years, nine million people developed cancers and today, there are more than 12 million people in the United States receiving cancer treatment. More than half a million people die of cancer every year, that is, at the rate of 1,500 patients every day. Cancers claim about 20% of all deaths in the US every year (Laino, online).
Of all cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, although it exists in men in rare cases. In the United States, 10% of all women have breast cancer, and according to the estimates of 1990, 44,000 American women have died because of breast cancer (Cook & Dresser 149-150). Although women suffer a high risk of contracting breast cancer, the possibility of developing this disease, however, is hardly more than 1% for any woman at any given time (Cook & Dresser 150).
Doctors have identified several kinds of breast cancers. This is not to mention the many cases in which a tumor in the breast is nothing more than a cyst or a harmless benign lump (ACS, online). The majority of breast cancers, almost 95% are cancer tumors that develop in the milk ducts. Those cancers which remain inside the duct without spreading out are known as in situ cancers. On the other hand, if the cancer cells spread out and invade other areas, they are known as invasive cancers. The other types of breast cancer, almost 5%, are known as lobular breast cancers because they develop in the breast lobes. A very rare type of cancer occurring in only 1% of all cases is known as inflammatory breast cancer. In inflammatory cases, the cancer cells spread very fast and invade other cells, but it can be identified very easily because it blocks the lymph vessels and the channels in the skin, turning the breast into a hard and warm surface with a clear red color (ACS, online).
Breast cancers can be caused by a variety of factors. Until today, many doctors believe that breast cancer has to do with heredity. Yet, only 15 to 20% of all women who have breast cancer histories in their families also have breast cancers. Furthermore, a gene known as p53 that is directly responsible for causing breast cancer has been found in extremely rare cases. In the families in which this gene existed, the risk of contracting breast cancer was 16 times more than average. Yet, the number of families in which this gene has been detected is only 100 all around the world, which leaves this cause to be very insignificant (Cook & Dresser 151). However, there still seems to be some evidence relating breast cancer to genetic factors. Both the breast and the glands that produce wax in ears belong to the same family of glands. Researchers found that individuals with ear glands that produce wet wax have a double risk with respect to breast cancer in contrast to those whose ear glands produce dry wax. This is why, researchers believe in the US and Europe where most individuals have wet wax ear glands have much higher risks of developing breast cancers than in other continents or countries such as Asia (Cook & Dresser 151).
Another risk related factor to breast cancer is menstruation. Doctors have discovered that risks of breast cancer are very high for women who menstruate before the age of 12 or who reach menopause after the age of fifty. Women who do not get pregnant at all or who become pregnant after the age of thirty also face very high risks. In relation to this risk factor, however, doctors believe that growing older is one factor that has to be considered because older age has been identified as having a high relation with breast cancer (Cook & Dresser 151).
Doctors today are becoming more convinced that diet and breast cancer could be connected in some strong relationship. Most diets that are highly related to breast cancers include chemicals in hair dyes, high alcohol consumption, birth control pills and many others. Nevertheless, evidence in this respect has not been yet established. In fact, many of the research efforts conducted on these factors have shown contradicting results. For example, a Japanese medical team found out that taking beer within reasonable amounts could reduce the amount of certain mutagens in the body that are related to breast cancer, but so far, no solid evidence supports this hypothesis (MSNBC, online) Nevertheless, because breast cancer is more spread among rich women who consume more fat and animal proteins than poor women, scientists still believe that there could be a cause and effect relationship between diet and breast cancer (Cook & Dresser 152).
Detecting breast cancer is both easy and difficult. It can be easy because any previously unnoticed lump on the breast could be an indication of a breast cancer, even though it might not be so. However, a clear change in a wart or mole on the breast is usually considered a reflection of cancer growth in the breast. All in all, the best way to detect breast cancer is to go through mammography, a process which many women go through several times during their lives (Laino, online). According to Dr. Mustafa Maatouk, a surgeon who is specialized in treating breast cancer and who operates frequently at the American University of Beirut, most breast cancer cases can be detected in two ways. The first is that women must regularly pay attention to any changes taking places in the warts or moles in their bodies, and secondly, regular inspection through mammography can be very helpful in detecting the disease early before it spreads into the rest of the body (Maatouk, Personal Interview).
Traditionally, cancers have been treated with a variety or a combination of methods. The most typical therapies are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radioactive substances, or immunotherapy (Laino, online). With breast cancers, almost all cases can be treated, but only on the condition that they are discovered at an early stage, mainly through physical inspection or through mammography. The most common method of dealing with a breast cancer is mastectomy where the cancer cells are removed through surgery (Runowicz & Haupt 68).
In many cases, the surgery requires removing a considerable part of the breast, leaving the woman with a great distress and a feeling of loss and disablement. In the past, women who underwent mastectomy suffered seriously because of the physical distortion of their bodies after the surgery. Today, however, plastic surgery has developed in such a way that it has become part of the treatment. Many insurance companies also cover plastic surgery expenses if they result from an accident or another surgery (Runowicz & Haupt 69).
In many cases, women who undergo mastectomy suffer serious psychological traumas that reflect on their sexual lives. In part, this is due to the fact that many people think that cancer is contagious when in fact it is not. Cancer growth of cells is induced within the body and therefore cannot be carried from one person to another, even if an exchange of cells takes place through sexual intercourse (Runowicz & Haupt 92).
Almost a century of dealing with cancers have passed. A hundred years ago, a woman with breast cancer was a dead woman. Today, this is no longer the case. Thousands of women all over the world now have the chance to live a normal life after they receive a successful treatment. Yet, breast cancer remains one of the leading causes of death among women, and even if the death rates have been declining in the past few years, women at different ages should continuously test for breast cancer because detecting the disease at a very early stage can be very helpful and the treatment might not even be noticed. Science’s war with breast cancer is not over, but it is also in the hands of women to make the victory certain.