Breast Cancer and Saying No to Milk

1 in 7 women in the UK will go on to develop breast cancer during her lifetime.  The fourth most common cause of death from cancer in the UK, each year around 55,000 women are diagnosed with it.  Within just the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there will be some 5,000 diagnoses. 

But what is it exactly?  Breast cancer begins when cells within the breast start to divide and grow wildly, in an unexpected way that doesn’t follow the normal course of things.  The most common forms of breast cancer begin within the ducts.  Tubes within the breast, the ducts carry milk to the nipple when lactating.  However, sometimes cancer can start in the lobules (the glands which produce the milk for breastfeeding).

Approximately 80% of breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50.  The older you are, the higher the risk.  That said, circa 10,000 women under the age of 50 receive a breast cancer diagnosis each year, though roughly 8,000 of those are in their 40s.  Men are also able to develop breast cancer, but it is quite rare (about 370 cases a year).  Again, those who are diagnosed are normally over the age of 50.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A lump or swelling noticeable, either by sight or touch, in the breast, upper chest, or armpit;
  • A change in skin tone, e.g. dimpling or puckering;
  • A change in colour, making the breast look red or inflamed;
  • A change to the nipple, where it might have become inverted (pulled in);
  • a rash or crusting around the nipple;
  • Unusual liquid discharge from either nipple;
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast.

Frequent self-conducted breast exams are crucial in maintaining awareness of any changes to breasts.  The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more chance of survival. 

Frequent self-conducted breast exams are crucial in maintaining awareness of any changes to breasts. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more chance of survival.
Of course, not everyone who survives breast cancer has the all-clear forever afterwards. Nearly 9 in 10 women survive for five years or more. According to Breast Cancer Now, however, each year there are still 11,500 women who die from breast cancer (and about 80 men). Breast cancer can return, sometimes incurably so. “Unsurvivors” are those who have either survived breast cancer before and develop it again worse, or those who receive a diagnosis too late. Termed secondary metastatic breast cancer, this is when breast cancer cells have spread from the first (or primary) breast cancer through the lymphatic or blood system to other areas of the body (such as the bones, lungs, liver, and brain). Outside of organ-specific additional symptoms, the general signs and symptoms of secondary metastatic breast cancer include:

• A constant feeling of fatigue;
• Incessant nausea;
• Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been going since 1985, with its established international symbol now the pink ribbon (believed to have been started by Evelyn Lauder in 1992, during the Estée Lauder Breast Cancer Campaign and her later initiation of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF)).
Breast Cancer UK, however, wants prevention to be at the forefront of people’s minds as well as awareness broadening, estimating that prevention can facilitate between 23% and 37% reduced occurrence of cases. Obviously, smoking is a no-no. Otherwise, exercise has been shown to decrease risk by up to 30% due to managing levels of the hormones oestrogen, androgen, insulin, and hunger-controlling leptin. Other lifestyle factors which have been shown in some way to impact risk levels of developing breast cancer include:

Taking the combined contraceptive pill and combined HRT treatment for menopause: a Danish study of around 2 million women found a 20% increased likelihood of developing breast cancer when on the combined synthetic oestrogen and progesterone pill. Within five years of ceasing to take the pill, that risk was void. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs), injections, and other combined hormone birth control are thought to carry similar risk to the pill. Similarly, the combined HRT treatment increases breast cancer risk the longer it is taken, but the effects last for some 10 years or more after stopping treatment.

Starting a family: having children under the age of 30 is thought to lower the chances of developing breast cancer in the long run. Although breast cancer risk is elevated in the 5 years after giving birth, offset by breastfeeding, after that 5-year period risk is reduced in comparison to other women of similar age.

Toxins in the immediate and surrounding environment: although air pollution is pretty difficult to avoid for many, knowing what goes into skincare products and household cleaning products (not to mention household items) is important, too. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are often found in the former (see our article, “Winter Skin Survival Guide – Gifts for Green-Minded & Beauty-Conscious Humans” for further details). Meanwhile, with EDCs in a wide range of conventional cleaning products as well (see “Staying Home and Staying Green this Winter”), it probably comes as no surprise that even items such as non-stick cookware can be harmful, given the Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) that lend them that quality. But even furniture and clothing are subjected to flame retardant chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants, and organophosphorus flame retardants – all potentially carcinogenic. In the UK, compared with Europe, there has been found the “highest recorded levels of flame retardants in human body fluids and breast milk”.

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