Causes of breast cancer, risk factors and preventions

It’s important you know that early identification of breast cancer and prompt medical management, interrupt the disease progression. Breast cancer is a malignant tumor originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk.

This disease happens as a result of interactions between the environment, a defective gene, lifestyle excesses and uncontrollable life dispositions. Breast cancer occurs in human of different genders, ages and races. It is a disease of public health importance. Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women. While the overwhelming majority of human breast cancer occurs in women, male breast cancer can also occur.

The benefit versus harm of breast cancer screening is controversial. More than 80% of breast cancer cases are discovered when a woman feels a lump. The earliest breast cancers are detected by a mammogram. The characteristics of the cancer and its complications determine the treatment which may include surgery, medications (hormonal therapy and chemotherapy), radiation and/or immunotherapy.

Globally, breast cancer accounts for 22.9% of all cancers in women. In 2016, breast cancer caused about 460330 deaths worldwide (14.6% of cancer deaths in women). Breast cancer is over 100 times more common in women than in men, although men tend to have poorer outcomes due to delays in diagnosis.  Nevertheless, the appearance of an untoward symptom should be taken seriously by both patients and their doctors, because of the possibility of an underlying breast cancer at any age. This article is in support of public campaigns that raise awareness on the symptoms and signs of breast cancer disease and the possibility of successful treatment after an early detection, medical evaluation and intervention.


Scientific studies and researches reveal that the factors below are possible natural contributors of breast cancers globally.

  • Age and gender – At 50 years and above, women are more prone to breast cancer than men of the same age group.
  • Family history of breast cancer – About 20 – 30% of women with breast cancer have a family history of breast, uterine, ovarian or colon cancers.
  • Genes — Women with defective genes have up to 80% chance of breast cancer attack during their life time.
  • Menstrual cycle — Women who start their menstrual cycle early (before age 12) or enter menopause late (after age 55) have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Childbirth — Women who have never had children or who had them after age 30, have increased risk of breast cancer. Being pregnant more than once or becoming pregnant at age 20-30 reduces the possibility of breast cancer attack.


Scientific studies and researches also reveal that the factors below are controllable contributors of breast cancers globally.

  • Alcohol use — Regular drinking of more than 33-66cl of alcohol a day may increase risk of breast cancer.
  • Diethylstilbestrol — Women who use diethylstilbestrol for several years to prevent miscarriage may have increased exposure to breast cancer at age 40 and above.
  • Hormone replacement therapy— There is higher risk of breast cancer in people who have received hormone replacement therapy with estrogen for several years.
  • Obesity — Obesity has been linked to breast cancer, although this is not completely understood. The theory is that obese women produce more estrogen which promotes the development of breast cancer.
  • Radiation — High dose of radiation therapy in children or young adults for treatment of cancer of the chest area, especially during breast development can cause breast cancer.

It is important to note that breast implants, antiperspirants, underwire brassiere and pesticides do not raise the risk of breast cancer.



 Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer is a type of cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers that begin from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas, while those from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas. It simply means that the two main types of breast cancers are ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma.  Ductal carcinoma originates from the tubes (ducts) that move milk from the breast to the nipple. Most breast cancers are of this type. Lobular carcinoma starts in the parts of the breast, called lobules, which produce milk. The cancer can progressively spread from the milk duct or lobule to other tissues in the breast. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too.


Early breast cancer usually does not present significant signs and symptoms. This is why regular breast observation and examination are very important. As the cancer grows, signs and symptoms may include breast lump (hard movable lump) which could be a hardly hurting new lump or mass or lump in the armpit that is hard with uneven edges; and  swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt). There could be breast thickening different from the other breast tissues. It could be observed that one breast is becoming larger or smaller than the other; and a nipple is changing position or shape or becoming inverted or turning inward (nipple retraction). Other signs and symptoms of breast cancer are breast- wrinkle with orange-peel texture or dimpling (skin irritation), redness and rashes on or around a nipple and constant pain in part of the breast or armpit.  There may be swelling of lymph nodes beneath the armpit or around the collarbone and fluid coming from the nipple or nipple discharge (other than breast milk) which may be bloody, clear, yellow, green or pus-like.

Symptoms and signs of men breast cancer include breast lump, pain and tenderness. Symptoms  and signs of advanced breast cancer may include bone pain, breast pain or discomfort, itching, increased sensitivity and burning, skin ulcers, swelling of the armpit (next to the breast with cancer), weight loss, redness, scaling or thickening of the nipple or breast skin and persistent breast or nipple pain.


It is important to avoid overweight or obesity especially after menopause. Having more fatty tissues after menopause can increase chances of getting breast cancer due to high estrogen levels. Also, women who are overweight are prone to higher blood insulin levels. High insulin level is associated with some cancers, including breast cancer. People should avoid harmful radiations, chemicals and cigarette smoking which can cause genetic changes in breast cells, alter treatment outcome and promote breast cancer burden. Excessive alcohol intake should be avoided. Limit alcohol consumption to one drink (33cl) per day and women at higher risk of breast cancer attack should not drink alcohol at all.


People should not ignore breast cancer signs and symptoms.  Medical experts should be contacted promptly for early intervention that may help treat and interrupt the spread of cancers even beyond the breast. It is necessary to have any new breast mass or lump checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases. Mothers should engage in sufficient breastfeeding of infants (breastfeed for 1½ to 2 years). Self breast examination which involves feeling the breast at least 3 times a week for lumps or other abnormalities is very essential.

Eat healthy diet. Choose foods and portion sizes that promote a healthy weight. Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products. Eat more fruits and vegetables each day. Limit processed and red meat in the diet. Engage in planned physical activity (moderate exercise such as brisk walking for 1-10 hours a week). Take oral contraceptives under medical supervision because of possible development of premenopausal breast cancer. If infected, ease the stress by associating with friends and cancer support groups for supportive environment that helps you cope and gain perspective from cancer survivors. Online cancer support groups are also very beneficial to cancer patients, especially in dealing with uncertainty and body-image problems inherent in cancer treatment.

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