Breast Cancer: Perspectives on Disease and Illness

All types of cancers are characterized by abnormal multiplication of cells without any control and order; a characteristic feature of breast cancer malignancy includes loss in cells distinctive shape and boundaries (Hirshaut, Pressman and Brody, 2009). A cancerous cell develops when it ceases to respond to growth inhibiting body cells and instead gains the ability to multiply uncontrollably leading to formation of what is referred as a tumor (Hirshaut, et al, 2009).

The formation of tumor in one part of the body leads to proliferation of malignant cells to other organs of the body which occur when cancerous cell break away from their original sites (Hirshaut, et al, 2009). Literature review indicates that breast cancer like all other cancers was there as early as 460 BC. Indeed there is evidence that indicates that Egyptians and Greeks could have been the first to recognize the disease in the society.

One source of literature review specifically mentions an Egyptian physician who describe an incurable “bulging tumor” that would appear to have been breast cancer (, 2010). Later on other notable physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen appear to understand well the physiology of breast cancer which they attempted to describe in detail in their recorded works (, 2010).

Background Information

According to the WHO, 80-90% of all types of cancers worldwide are considered to be of environmental origin, which means they are attributed to lifestyle factors rather than genetic factors (2010). Global incidence of cancers is expected to rise from the current 40.3million to approximately 90 million in 2020 (, 2010). Currently every few minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, while undiagnosed cancer prevalence is estimated at 10 million, worldwide as of 2006 (Peacock, 2002).

This means that breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer among women, with approximately 1 in every 10 women projected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime (Peacock, 2002). In United States, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death after lung cancer among women (Peacock, 2002). However the prevalence of breast cancer in men is negligible and amounts to less than 1% of all diagnosed breast cancer cases (Hirshaut, et al, 2009).

Typical symptoms for breast cancer include presence of lump in breast or swelling and skin changes; most often breast cancer is asymptomatic and the only definitive diagnosis of the condition can only be arrived through specific medical tests, usually MRI, ultrasound and CAT scans (Reyes, 2010).

Risk Factors

Generally the trend in diagnosis of breast cancer is such that most cases are not diagnosed on time until it is already too late when the symptoms have advanced to late stage making the efforts of fighting breast cancer very challenging. Epidemiologist and other researchers have identified causal relationship between breast cancer and specific characteristic factors which they refer as risk factors. Risk factors are typical dispositions that have been found to be similar among most cases of breast cancers that researchers have been able to investigate (Peacock, 2002). There are two major ways that risk factors for breast cancer are categorized: lifestyle and genetic factors (Peacock, 2002).

The majority of these factors can be determined to be of genetic origin such as family history, age of conception, age of the woman, race and diagnosis of other cancer. This are the types of factors that one cannot be able to influence and therefore do not provide a person with the advantage of undertaking initiatives that would minimize the probability of developing breast cancer.

Lifestyle risk factors on the other hand are the type that are a result of eating behavior as well as way of life that person is used to and which someone can opt to change in order to lower their risk of developing the cancer (Hirshaut, et al, 2009).

They include use of alcohol, failure to breastfed, delayed birth, use of contraceptives and lack of exercise.

According to the research study, the genetic factors are the major determinants that significantly determine whether a woman is likely to develop breast cancer than is the case with lifestyle factors that have minimal influence. For instance family history and race are regarded as major determinants that influence occurrence of breast cancer more than other all the other factors.

It is not yet known how these risk factors causes cells to become cancerous. Some women have more than one risk factor yet never get breast cancer, while others have very minimal of these risk factors but eventually get to develop breast cancer. The major risk factors that have been identified to have a causal relationship with breast cancer are more than twenty in number, however for our discussion I shall only mention the major risk factors that are attributed to breast cancer.

One of the major risk factors is the use of hormonal contraceptives by women for an extended duration of time; this has been found to increase the probability of a woman developing breast cancer by a range of up to 20% when compared to other women who do not use hormonal contraceptives (Reyes, 2010).

Another risk factor of breast cancer has to do with age; as a matter of fact the chances of developing breast cancer increases with age in women especially from the age of 35 onwards (Hirshaut, et al, 2009). Many studies have found that a high proportion of all women diagnosed with breast cancer are relatively advanced in years with the highest percentage being between the ages of 40-50 years (Hirshaut, et al, 2009).

The inability by a woman to have child during her lifetime has been found to be a risk factor for breast cancer, as opposed to when a woman has given birth to a child. Another major risk factor is the race of a woman; major studies have determined that women of African origin are less likely to develop breast cancer when compared to their Caucasian counterparts; on the other hand they are more likely to succumb to the effect of breast cancer than Caucasians (Mitchell, (2010).

Perhaps the most significant risk factors of breast cancer in women have to do with their family history. This factor is found to be significant in that the presence of breast cancer among family members is seen to significantly contribute to the chances that a woman would develop breast cancer up to 30% in cases where a male family member has been diagnosed with breast cancer at any time in their life (Mitchell, (2010).

Failure to breast feed by mothers for a long duration after they have given birth is also considered to contribute to the development of breast cancer among women when incidence rates of the cancer is compared with mothers that have breastfed regularly. Further studies now indicate that diagnosis of other type of cancers in women such as cervical and ovarian cancer seems to increase the susceptibility of a woman to breast cancer.


Hirshaut, Y., Pressman, P. & Brody, J. (2009). Breast Cancer: the Complete Guide. New York: Bantam Publishers.

Mitchell, J. (2010). Contemporary Issues in Cancer Imaging: Breast Cancer. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Peacock, J. (2002). Breast Cancer: Perspectives on Disease and Illness. Minnesota: Capstone Press.

Reyes, T. (2010). Advances in Breast cancer Screening: Good, Better, Best. Web. (2010). A History of Breast Cancer. Web. (2010). Breast Cancer: Prevention and Control. Web.

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