Breast cancer: New treatment

This year in Canada, 21,200 women and 145 men will be shocked to learn they have the dreaded disease. An estimated 79 per cent of those women will be 50 years old or more, claims the Canadian Cancer Society. And the National Cancer Institute of Canada reports at least 5,200 women and 45 men will die from the disease. (The mortality rate for men is higher because they are usually diagnosed at a later, less treatable stage of the disease.)

Early detection a key to survival
Most women know they should examine their breasts monthly and have them checked regularly by a physician so that suspicious lumps can be found in a timely manner. And for good reason: one in nine women will have breast cancer during her lifetime; one in 27 will die of the disease.

Fortunately, more than three-quarters of breast cancers in females are found at this early, more curable stage. According to Health Canada, screening women aged 50 to 69 with mammography reduces breast cancer deaths by 30 per cent.

A breast has 15 to 20 lobes, each with smaller lobules ending in milk ducts. Tube-like ducts connect all of these structures. The majority of breast cancers areuctal carcinomas that may or may not become invasive. Lobular carcinoma, though less invasive, more often occurs in both breasts. Cancer that blocks lymph vessels in the breast, making it red and swollen, is known as inflammatory breast cancer.

There’s no definitive way to prevent breast cancer. It is believed to have several risk factors, most notably, aging. Others include:

• a previous breast cancer or benign breast disease.

• dense breast tissue.

• having first child after the age of 30 or never bearing children.

• breast cancer in close family members.

• uterine, colorectal or ovarian cancer in the family.

• radiation therapy of the chest area.

• longer exposure to estrogen because of early onset of menstruation and/or late menopause, as well as hormone replacement therapy.

• obesity, high consumption of fat, drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking and lack of physical activity.

When there is a lump
Most lumps are benign but should be checked as soon as possible by a physician, who may order a mammogram and possibly an ultrasound exam. If there is a tumour, a biopsy can determine if cells are cancerous, have hormone receptors for estrogen and progesterone and whether they are low- or high-grade cancer cells. The latter are more aggressive, indicating a cancer that may spread.

Next page: A new weapon for treatment