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June - July 2005


Breast Cancer: What we need to know

by Dr Renu Riat BSc MBBS

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the 2nd leading cause of cancer death (exceeded by lung cancer). The incidence of breast cancer has been increasing steadily from an incidence of 1:20 in 1960 to 1:8 women today.

The incidence of breast cancer is very low in those in their 20s gradually increasing and reaching a plateau at the age of 45 and increasing dramatically after 50. Fifty percent of breast cancer is diagnosed in women over 65 indicating the ongoing necessity of yearly screening throughout a woman’s life.

The human body is made up of billions of cells. Normally, these cells grow, divide and die in a controlled way to produce and replace the body’s tissue. If something disrupts this controlled process a cancer can grow.

Breast cancer is caused when the cells that make up the breast tissue fail to die, instead they endlessly divide and eventually grow into tumours. If the problem can be detected early on, then there is a good chance it can be successfully treated. The more the cancer has spread, the more difficult it is to treat.


Women- breast cancer is more common in women than men. Every year around 40,470 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and 240 in men.
Age- the older a woman is the higher her risk of developing breast cancer, 80 % of all breast cancers occur in post-menopausal women (based on the average age of menopause being 50).
Women who have previously had breast cancer face an increased risk in developing the disease again.

Family history - women with a hereditary genetic susceptibility account for 5-10 % of all breast cancer cases. They tend to have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer and these cancers usually occur in close family members, such as their grandmother, mother, aunt or sister, at an early age.

Not having children - The risk of having breast cancer is reduced by having children at a younger age and the more children a woman has, the lower the risk.


The main goal of breast cancer surgery is to completely remove the tumour from the breast.
Radiation therapy uses targeted, high-energy X-rays to stop cancer cells from growing and dividing.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to eliminate cancer cells. It is a treatment option for most types of breast cancer, but it is used differently depending on how advanced the cancer is.
Hormonal therapies can halt cancer growth by preventing the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.

Reducing Mortality From Breast Cancer

It’s not possible to prevent breast cancer yet, but it is possible to reduce your risk of dying from the disease.

Earlier diagnosis and better treatment have led to a 22 % fall in breast cancer death rates in the last 10 years.

Be Breast Aware - The best way to influence your chance of surviving breast cancer is to detect it early, so be breast aware and know what is normal for you, then you can act if you notice something wrong.

Attend routine breast screening - All women aged between 50 and 65 are invited to attend for a mammogram. Women over 65 years of age can ask to be screened.

Eat a healthy well-balanced diet - Experts believe diet is likely to play a part in the development of breast cancer. Eating a healthy, well-balanced, low-fat, high fibre diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, is beneficial to overall health and so is recommended.

Take regular exercise - Regular exercise contributes towards a healthier lifestyle and helps maintain a healthy body weight.

Obesity - Postmenopausal women who are overweight have an increased risk of breast cancer. Be sensible with alcohol -There is increasing evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing breast cancer.  

More Health

More articles by Dr Renu Riat BSc MBBS

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