Imagine a woman has just discovered she has breast cancer. She suffers quietly and tries to face the disease silently without any social support.
This situation would be absurd nowadays, but that was the case with many women who struggled with the disease decades ago. The story goes that the situation began to change from the 1970s on, driven by the women's liberation movement.
Fast forward in time to the 1990s, which was when the fight against breast cancer began to get stronger in the United States, with several states taking isolated actions encouraging the prevention and control of the disease. Subsequently, the US Congress approved October as breast cancer prevention month.
The movement spread worldwide and the pink ribbon, launched by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, also in the 1990s, became the worldwide symbol of disease awareness month. Currently, the movement has participation from thousands of organizations highlighting the importance of breast cancer awareness, education and research.
Here at Cisa, it is no different: our October is also Pink. Therefore, we want to draw your attention, regardless of gender, to become aware of the dangers of this disease.
It´s no wonder why we need a month dedicated to the matter. A survey from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that worldwide, breast cancer is among the three most prevalent types of cancer (along with lung and colorectal). Also, of the 185 countries analyzed, it is what most affects women in 154 countries.
In Brazil, it is an equally important alert. The most common cancer among women, after non-melanoma skin cancer, is breast cancer (29%). The information was extracted from the INCA (Instituto Nacional de Câncer) [National cancer institute] website , which also indicates the highest incidence of cases in women in the South, Southeast, Midwest and Northeast.
For men, this type of cancer is considered rare. According to the institution, it represents only 1% of the total cases of the disease.
Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to completely prevent the onset of breast cancer. However, according to INCA, about 30% of cancer cases can be prevented by adopting good habits that include:
· Practicing physical activity;
· Eating healthy;
· Maintaining proper body weight;
· Avoiding the consumption of alcoholic beverages;
· Breastfeeding; and
· Avoiding the use of synthetic hormones such as contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies.
If we cannot completely prevent the disease, the good news is that the sooner it is detected, the sooner treatment can be started. As a result, the chances of a less invasive cure for the disease are greater.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs, which may be:
· Fixed and usually painless nodule (lump): is the main manifestation of the disease and is present in about 90% of cases when the cancer is detected by the woman herself;
· Reddish, retracted or orange peel-like breast skin;
· Changes in the nipple;
· Small nodules in the armpits or neck; and
· Spontaneous outflow of abnormal fluid through the nipples.
Often, this type of cancer manifests itself before the signs become so apparent. Therefore, in addition to breast self-examination, it is important that women have their exams updated.
Screening mammography (exam performed when there are no suspicious signs or symptoms) is among the early detection strategies. In Brazil, the Ministry of Health recommends that the test be performed on women between 50 and 69 years of age, every two years. According to INCA, our country follows the guidance of the World Health Organization and countries that adopt mammographic screening.
There is also diagnostic mammography - which is the exam performed for the purpose of investigating suspected breast lesions - and imaging exams (such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance). Both can be ordered at any age at the discretion of a doctor.
To confirm the diagnosis, the professional requests a biopsy of the nodule fragment or suspected lesion. Then the material is analyzed by a pathologist.
There are some factors that increase the chances of developing the disease:
· Environmental and behavioral factors such as being overweight, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol consumption;
· Reproductive and hormonal history factors, such as first menstruation before the age of 12, not having children, first pregnancy after age 30 and menopause after age 55;
· Genetic and hereditary factors such as family history of ovarian cancer, cases of breast cancer in the family (mainly before 50 years of age), family history of breast cancer in men, and genetic alteration (especially in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes).
Risk factors serve as a warning and are not intended to alarm. If any of these apply to you - especially genetic and hereditary ones - talk to your doctor.
Also, whenever you have any questions or notice something in your breasts, do not hesitate to seek a professional in the area. Surely, they will be able to guide you as best they can.