October 17, 2009
Dr Vivian Oputa
October is officially tagged “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”. Of recent, there have been a lot of medical breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Breast Cancer. Scientists have identified more accurate tools for screening younger women who are more likely to get the most dangerous forms and new strategies have also been developed for the treatment of newly diagnosed pregnant women. Advanced research has led to the development of better, less toxic drugs to guard against recurrences.
In the Western world, breast cancer deaths have plummeted and survival rates are soaring. Research has made more headway in the fight against breast cancer than any other form of cancer. These milestone achievements are as a result of the constant campaigns, awareness creation and fundraising activities directed toward the cause. Early detection and a study which showed that hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women strongly contributed to the development of breast cancer are greatly responsible for the lower incidence rates.
In breast cancer, some cells in the breast for reasons poorly understood start growing abnormally, dividing more rapidly than normal cells and may spread (metastatize) to adjascent tissue, lymph nodes or other parts of the body.The most common type begins in the milk producing ducts while otherforms occur in other breast tissue. It is known that 5 to 10% of breast cancer cases areinherited. There is usually a defect in one of two genes namely BRCA1 and BRCA2 (Breast Cancer Genes 1 and 2).
Most genetic mutations related to breast cancer are not inherited and develop during one’s lifetime such as exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in tobacco and charred meats and radiation exposure.
Newer drugs such as Herceptin and Tamoxifen that are specifically targeted for the treatment of pathologically different cancer types has greatly reduced deaths as a result of breast cancer. In the past, one drug was used to treat all forms of breast cancer with less than satisfactory results.