Cancer is a disease that begins in cells that group together to form tissues or organs in our bodies. Inside each cell are genes that order the cells to grow, work, reproduce and die.
Sometimes a cell’s instructions get mixed up and they behave abnormally. Groups of these abnormal cells can circulate in the blood or immune system or form lumps and tumours within organs.
Some tumours are benign, meaning they stay in one place in the body and are not usually life-threatening, depending on the location. Malignant tumour cells can invade the tissues around them and spread to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer starts in the breast tissue, which extends up to the collarbone and from the armpit to the breastbone. Breasts are glands that make milk. Lobules make the milk and the milk ducts drain the milk through the nipple. The cells that form the lobules and ducts can grow out of control and become cancerous.
Non-invasive cancers stay within the milk ducts or milk lobules, while invasive cancers can spread. The most common form of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma, which begins in the milk duct but grows into the surrounding normal tissue inside the breast.
Detecting breast cancer isn’t easy, but there are signs that should prompt an exam by a doctor. Warning signs of cancer include:
- Breast lump
- Changes in a breast’s shape or size
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Redness (usually without pain)
- A nipple that turns inward, or crusting or scaling on the nipple
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), but lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for women and men.
- An estimated 23,200 women across Canada will be diagnosed in with breast cancer and about 5,300 will die of it every year.
- Approximately 180 Canadian men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 50 will die every year.
- One in nine Canadian women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in 28 will die of it.
- According to CancerCare Manitoba, about 800 women in Manitoba received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010.
- During the same year, about 220 women lost their battle with breast cancer.
- According to a 2007 report by the Canadian Cancer Society, the age-standardized mortality rate for breast cancer in Canadian women has fallen 25 per cent since 1986, from 32 to 24.1 per 100,000 cases.
- The five-year survival rate of women diagnosed with breast cancer is 87 per cent; for men it’s 84 per cent.
- Less than one per cent of breast cancer cases occur in women aged 29 or younger. Twenty per cent of breast cancer cases occur in women aged 30-49.
Many international studies have shown that population-based breast screening can reduce deaths by up to 25 per cent in women aged 50 to 69. A CancerCare analysis showed that for Manitoba women 50 to 69 years of age who were screened, the risk of dying from breast cancer was reduced by 24%.
The Manitoba Breast Screening Program provides free breast screening every two years for all eligible Manitoba women 50 years and older. Breast cancer is most common in women over 50.
All women are eligible except those who:
- have signs or symptoms of breast cancer such as lumps or nipple discharge
- have breast implants
- have a previous diagnosis of breast cancer
- have had a mammogram within the last 12 months
Women 50 and older receive a letter inviting them to be screened. The visit includes a questionnaire, mammogram and video on breast health and takes about 30 minutes. Women can make their own appointment or be referred by their doctor.
About 5 to 6 women out of 100 will need more tests after screening. Most of these women (90%) will not have breast cancer.
There are four sites for breast screening (Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson and Winkler) and a mobile service. Appointments are available at over 90 different locations in the province. Call 204-788-8000 or 1-800-903-9290 to book.
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Making lifestyle changes isn’t always easy and there is no guarantee that you won’t develop breast cancer. However, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research’s ongoing reviews, it is estimated that the risk can be reduced by 40 per cent by making the following changes:
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
- If you drink at all, women should limit the amount to one drink a day, and men to two drinks a day
- Upon giving birth, consider breastfeeding for up to six months and then add other liquids and foods to the baby’s diet
The Canadian Cancer Society suggests that individuals:
- Avoid taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) if possible
- Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke
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Prior to your referral to the Breast Health Centre, you may have received a pamphlet called Diagnostic Breast Exams: What to Expect from either your family doctor or after your first diagnostic test.
Once you have received an appointment at the Breast Health Centre, here are some of the tests that may be done to find out if you have breast cancer and if it has spread.