The World Health Organization, WHO, celebrates every October 19 the International Day to Fight Breast Cancer, in order to raise awareness and promote the accessibility to controls, diagnoses and timely and effective treatments to combat this disease.
In Colombia, according to said world institution, breast cancer occupies the first place of incidence with 13.7%, which corresponds to 15,509 new cases and 4,411 deaths due to this type of cancer (data from 2020).
Researchers assure that one out of every eight women in the world will have breast cancer during her lifetime, and this is the main reason why they should do a self-examination and a regular evaluation of their breasts before the age of 40, especially if there is a family history.
Breast cancer is not an infectious or transmissible disease, as is the case with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and cervical cancer. Most cases occur in women over 40 years of age, without any apparent risk factor.
Among the factors that increase the risk of this disease are aging, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, family history, history of radiation exposure, smoking, and the use of postmenopausal hormone therapy.
There are also factors that reduce the probability of suffering from it, such as prolonged breastfeeding, regular physical exercise, weight control, avoidance of: alcohol consumption, exposure to tobacco smoke, radiation or prolonged use of hormones.
However, even if all these risk factors could be controlled, the risk of developing the disease is still 30%. The main risk factor is being a woman, but approximately 0.5% to 1% of cases also affect men, whose treatment is the same as for women.
And although family history is a risk factor, most women who are diagnosed with this disease have no known family history, which is why they are all exposed to this type of cancer.
The reality is that there are hereditary genetic mutations that increase the risk in the BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB-2 genes. In these cases, the treatment to be considered to reduce the risk is the surgical removal of both breasts.
The prevention of the disease itself is the ultimate tool to combat it. Most of the time, in a self-examination, the patient notices some change in their nipples or in their breast and this is enough for them to consult a doctor, even if there is no pain.
The characteristic symptoms are nodule or thickening in the breast, alteration in the size, shape or appearance of the breast, appearance of dimpling, redness, cracking or other alteration in the skin, change in appearance of the nipple or alteration in the surrounding skin and abnormal discharge from the nipple.
Good news is that 90% of breast lumps are not always cancerous, they can be benign lumps such as fibroadenomas, cysts or infections. If there is a breast abnormality that persists for more than a month, it is important to have specialized tests such as mammography or tissue sampling (biopsy) and determine if the mass is malignant (cancerous) or benign.
Breast cancer, if not treated promptly, can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes in the armpit and, over time, cancer cells can reach other organs such as the lungs, liver, bones and brain.
Therapies against this cancer, such as radiotherapies, brachytherapy, chemotherapies, etc., are effective depending on the state of the disease and if it is fully complied with. If a treatment is only partially carried out, it is unlikely that there will be a positive result.
This battle has been fought by many brave women like Dilia and my mom, who today I send hugs up to heaven. I want to thank others that I can still hug, like my friend Sonia, who is a breast cancer survivor and is an inspiring example that reminds us that life is still beautiful and there are many reasons to keep fighting.
Traducción del español: Catalina Oviedo Brugés