About Cancer

The Cancer Cycle:

Cancer is a disease of cells, the basic building blocks of our bodies. Their lives and behavior are controlled by genetic instructions that are present in every cell of the body. Those instructions tell our cells when and how to grow, reproduce and die.

If those instructions get garbled, a cell might start behaving and reproducing in an uncontrolled way. When that happens, we call it cancer.

Cancerous cells:

All cancers start from a single cell that undergoes many changes. Some of those changes are permanent alterations to the DNA called mutations.
Luckily, our bodies have a host of defensive strategies for making sure damaged or mutated cells never get the chance to reproduce.

It’s because a potentially cancerous cell has to make it past so many of these natural defenses that the process of cancer development can take a long time—years, even decades. Over our lifetimes, thousands and thousands of damaged cells get disposed of before they can cause any harm.

But if a cell does manage to get past our defenses and start multiplying without control, it can form a mass of abnormal cells called a tumor.

Not all tumors are dangerous. Those that arise and then go quiet are called benign. But malignant or cancerous tumors can spread into surrounding tissues, damaging nearby cells or organs.


Protection against Cancer:

Cancer is not a single disease, and no single factor is likely to be the cause. Many things contribute to cancer development, but we now know that a significant number of cancers are caused by lifestyle factors like smoking, poor diet, and excess body fat.

Understand what that means: Everyday choices affect our chances of getting cancer. (Chances for many common cancers, like those of the colon, breast, esophagus and others, can be cut dramatically.)

It’s important to understand that individual causes of cancer often interact to increase or decrease risk. This is particularly true for diet, which can influence hormone levels and the chronic inflammation that can in turn influence risk.

Many substances in plant foods can help our natural defenses prevent damage or even repair our cells. Daily physical activity also seems to help prevent some major cancers from developing and even from recurring among survivors. And keeping body fat from building up, especially around the middle, is a great way to help defend against many cancers.

The choices listed on the right side of the diagram above can help protect your cells against damage and lower your risk for cancers. The choices listed on the left side can increase your cancer risk. You can click on the graphic to see a larger image.

Life Style changes make a Difference

Remember: Cancer does not develop all at once. It’s a long process in which damage to the cells or mutations accumulate over many years. That means it’s never too early, and never too late, to start making healthy, protective changes that may slow or halt the process.

    • If you smoke, stop doing it.
    • If you’re inactive, start exercising.
    • If you’re overweight, do what you can to get to a healthy, stable weight.
    • And if your diet is low in plant foods, start adding them to your very next meal


What is Breast Cancer?

All tissues in our body and are made from cells, including the breasts. Cancer starts in the cells which make up the tissues.

In normal circumstances cells grow and divide as our body requires new cells. When cells get damaged or grow old they are replaced by new cells. Sometimes this natural process goes wrong and new cells appear without our body needing them, while old or damaged cells may build up rather than die. A gradual buildup of these cells can form a lump, tumor or mass. Lumps in the breast can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

In most cases, breast lumps turn out to be non-cancerous and these benign lumps won’t spread to other parts of our body. However, malignant breast cancer cells can spread. They can move beyond the primary tumor and be transported via the lymph or blood vessels to other parts of the body. Sometimes these cells may attach to other tissues in the body and cause further tumors or growths. The spread of cancer in the body away from the primary tumor is called metastasis.

How Breast Cancer Develops

The female breast is made up of many lobes. Inside these lobes are smaller sections called lobules. Milk is produced in small glands inside the lobules. When a woman breast feeds her baby milk flows from the lobules through small ducts to the nipple.
Breast cancer develops in the ducts or the lobules of the breast.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Each form of cancer has different risk factors that increase a person’s chance of getting a particular disease.

A person with one or more risk factors for breast cancer may not ever develop the disease but having them does increase the risk. With breast cancer the risk factors may change with the passing of time.

preventable-chartRisk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Strong family history of breast cancer
  • Presence of an inherited faulty gene
  • Previous diagnosis for breast cancer
  • Early onset of periods before the age of 12
  • More than 2 standard alcoholic drinks per day
  • Not breast feeding a child
  • Late onset of menopause
  • Having children after the age of 30
  • Large weight gain especially after menopause

Breast Awareness

Raising breast awareness is vital in detecting early changes in your breasts.
Early detection has been clearly demonstrated to increase the chances of better and more positive outcomes from breast cancer.

Performing regular self-examinations and being aware of what to look for and what is normal for you and your breasts at different times of the month, is vitally important.

You should notify your GP or medical specialist if you notice any of the following changes

  • On-going pain in the breast
  • Puckering, dimpling or redness of the skin on the breast
  • Nipple discharge or changes in the look or position of the nipple
  • Any lump or skin thickening in the breast tissue
  • The breast feels unusual

Breast self-examination:

Make sure you take time to examine your breasts regularly. It may be good to put a reminder in your diary or your phone to prompt you.

Some tips:

  • Look at your breasts in the mirror noting the size and shape
  • Some women prefer to examine their breasts lying down or when they are in the shower or bath.
  • Make sure when you examine your breasts you include the area up to your collarbone and down to below your bra line and under your arm.
  • Use the flat of your hand to start then followed by the flat part of your fingers to go deeper into the tissue.
  • Notify your primary care physician immediately if you notice any changes.

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast mammography has been proven to be a reliable and efficient diagnostic tool, detecting around 90% of breast cancers.

A mammogram is simply an x-ray of the breast and from age 40 women can have mammograms. For women aged 50-69, two-yearly screening mammograms are recommends. This is the best way to detect breast cancer early, before there are any signs or symptoms. Early detection in this age group offers women a better chance of successful treatment and recovery.

Mammograms have not been readily used for women under 40 as the breast tissue is usually denser and detection of breast changes or lumps may not be as reliable.