Smorgasbord Health Column – Women’s Health Month – Breast Cancer by Sally Cronin

Having spent time on some of the more common health issues we might suffer from, over the next few weeks, I am going to focus first on women’s health first posted in 2015 and a number of times since as I consider it to be an important issue.. It will be followed by men’s health.

Apart from looking at specific problems faced by women, I will also be sharing some guest posts from writers who have experienced health issues associated with the reproductive system or have worked with the medical field associated with women’s health.

These systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully. I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This series is not just for women or men specifically, but also their partners.

Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men and women in our lives understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

Female Reproductive system – Breast Cancer

The most recent statistics from the World Health Authority news room illustrate the reach that cancer still has across the world.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 (1). The most common in 2020 (in terms of new cases of cancer) were:

  • breast (2.26 million cases);
  • lung (2.21 million cases);
  • colon and rectum (1.93 million cases);
  • prostate (1.41 million cases);
  • skin (non-melanoma) (1.20 million cases); and
  • stomach (1.09 million cases).

In many developing countries that do not have screening programmes to detect the disease early, the diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence. Most of us live in countries where cancer research, early detection and personalised treatments are now available, and if you look at the survival rates of ten years and over, the news is encouraging. However Covid has made an impact on both diagnosis and treatment which makes it even more important that we are aware of the symptoms and get checked.

Breast cancer statistics on average in the UK each year; Against Breast Cancer.org

  • Over 55,000 new invasive cases and over 8000 in situ cases are diagnosed
  • 80% of new breast cancer diagnoses are in women over 50 years of age
  • Around one man a day is diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Breast cancer is the main cause of death in women aged 35-49 years and 1 in 7 women will develop the disease in their lifetime
  • The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year is increasing, which may be due to improved screening programs.

The US statistics can be found on this website Susan G. Komen In 2021, it’s estimated among U.S. women there will be:

  • 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer (This includes new cases of primary breast cancer, but not breast cancer recurrences.)
  • 49,290 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive breast cancer
  • 43,600 breast cancer deaths

Although the survival rate in the UK and US is improving, the aim of course, is to ensure as near 100% survival rate for all those diagnosed with breast cancer. To that end, research has now become even more focused on identifying every factor involved in its development, from risk factors to individual tumour cell variations. There are some exciting new studies which you will find out about later in the post

The diagnosis of Breast Cancer strikes fear into the heart of us all. Not that the disease is exclusive and men too can develop this disease. But there are risk factors that are not down to genetic causes, but are a result of our lifestyle. The fact that it is estimated that 38% of cancers are preventable, should inspire us to look closely at our diet, exercise and lifestyle choices.

Risk Factors

Most of us in developed countries are living longer due to better diet and medical care. Recent research does support the fact that we all have rogue cells that might at some stage develop into cancer, particularly if we live into our eighties and nineties. If we have a poor diet full of sugars and have worked in a hazardous environment our immune systems may not function efficiently allowing for diseases such as cancer to move from harmless to dangerous.

There are a number of risk factors that have been identified, but apart from a clear genetic link to mutated genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2 and p53, there is only firm but not definitive links to other triggers. These include prolonged exposure to hormones such as oestrogen because of an early start to puberty before the age of 12 years old or a late menopause after 55 years old.

Lifestyle and diet are likely to play a role as a nutritionally poor diet is likely to result in poor immune system function allowing all pathogens to flourish. Our bodies are resilient and can fight off most serious diseases if our immune system is functioning efficiently. However, with a nutritionally deficient diet our immune system become compromised and cannot support us.

There have been studies which indicate that exposure to hormone replacement therapy and birth control might raise the risk factor as will being exposed to chemicals within the work place.

Lifestyle choices such as smoking, recreational drugs and drinking excessive alcohol can be increased risk factors as they will undermine the body’s own defense system as well as introducing carcinogens into the body. In the case of smoking, each cigarette has over 4,000 chemical components, many of which are toxic.

You might also be at risk if you are severely overweight and take little exercise.

You can find more details: Breast cancer detection and prevention

Early Detection

If you notice any changes in your breasts that are not associated with your normal monthly cycle or pregnancy then contact your GP or health provider.

Here is an excellent article on self-examination that you should complete at least once every month: Breast Cancer self examination

In certain countries there are various health checks that are available to screen for specific cancers between certain ages and it is important that every woman take advantage of these.

The Good News.

If breast cancer is detected early and treated there is between an 88% and 93% survival rate. This drops to between 74% for stage two and 49% for stage three: Survival statistics

In the latest research it has been identified that there are at least 10 different variants of the disease (instead of the three already identified), and that tumours themselves may have variations in types of cancerous cells inside them and also when they spread to other parts of the body. This raises more challenges as it increases the need for very personalised treatment plans for patients.

Here is an extract from a very interesting article that I suggest you do read from Cancer Research UK. Increasing the resolution on breast cancer – The Metabric Study

Their study group, METABRIC (Molecular Taxonomy of Breast Cancer International Consortium), looked at the patterns of molecules inside tumours from nearly two thousand women, for whom information about the tumour characteristics had been meticulously recorded.

They compared this with the women’s survival, and other information, like their age at diagnosis.

While many other studies have highlighted differences between cancers, the METABRIC study looked at so many tumours that they could spot new patterns and ‘clusters’ in the data.

Their conclusion is that what we call ‘breast cancer’ is in fact at least ten different diseases, each with its own molecular fingerprint, and each with different weak spots.

This is simultaneously daunting and heartening – daunting because each of these diseases will likely need a different strategy to overcome it; and heartening because it opens up multiple new fronts in our efforts to beat breast cancer.

and from the same article – Genetic insights

Modern genetic technology is increasing our understanding of cancer

All of the tests described above measure the levels of proteins inside tumours. Recently, research has focused on testing which genes are switched on or off inside the cancer cells.

This has led to tests, not yet widely used in the NHS, such as ‘PAM50’. This examines 50 separate genes inside a woman’s tumour, and uses the resulting ‘fingerprint’ to group cancers into four subtypes’:

Luminal A cancers, which are usually ER+ and/or PR+ – and make up about half of all cases. They tend to have low amounts of Her2. Women with these tumours tend to have the best outlook.

I hope that you will read more on Breast Cancer at the links I have shared. Being informed is the first step in prevention, as is understanding how your body works, how it feels and how it might be changing.

On Thursday author Judith Barrow will share her story about Breast Cancer and I hope you will pop into read this informative and inspiring post.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021

 

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here::Sally’s books and reviews

 

Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.

 

34 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Women’s Health Month – Breast Cancer by Sally Cronin

  1. A very important post to share Sally. I’ve had my scares with breast cancer – during the pandemic had to have a cyst drained and not the first worry. I have regular mammograms to keep an eye on things. Seems I have a possible high risk factor due to early menstruation and late menopause too. So, I will have to eat well, exercise and drink less!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I blithely thought I had no risk factors for breast cancer, except for my mother and her sister both having it very late in life. But mine had nothing to do with relatives, it’s not the inherited variety, just bad luck. Actually I had two risk factors; being around a long time and the early start late finish of periods. My letter for screening came in our Feb lockdown and by the time I was double vaccinated and going on the bus to the hospital seemed safe, I vaguely thought I felt a lump. I got an appointment within days for a screening, but my daughter said you have to get in the system, book face to face with the doctor as well. I had to have a phone consultation with the doctor, told her I had just been screened and she said she would check up on my results. At the screening they also said I was more likely to get a recall as I had mentioned the lump. I was recalled and had every scan, ultrasound, biopsies and booked in for special MRI. It’s good to be screened, but I think little actually showed on that. So don’t assume anything, any worries make sure you get in the system. 360 women a year are going through at my hospital, they are so efficient and I was propelled forward into action.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much for sharing your experience with breast cancer Janet… as you say be vigilant and any concerns whatsover get checked. They don’t do automatic screening her after 65 but I do a self check regularly as we do know our own bodies better than anyone else. Glad you are part of an efficient hospital system that moves quickly…hugsxx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An important post for women, and men too. I’ve made sure to do the necessary screening since my late 30s. They have even suggested I could go to every other year but I said no thinking they made the same suggestion to my sister in law and if she had they would have missed her breast cancer for another year. Luckily she’s fine but sometimes we have to follow our gut instead of cost saving suggestions that benefit insurance companies.

    Liked by 1 person

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