About Women's Cancers

Among British Columbian women, breast cancer continues to be the most diagnosed cancer with about one in nine women diagnosed. This is an estimated more than 3,100 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Over 600 women will die from breast cancer this year second only to lung cancer.

The good news is, we are seeing progress. In a recent paper published in the journal The Lancet, when compared to 12 jurisdictions in six countries with comparable wealth and healthcare structures, British Columbia had the best five-year survival outcomes for breast cancer.

Signs and Symptoms
If you notice any of these signs, you should see your doctor for a breast examination:
  • A mass or a lump or a thickening or a change in your breast that is new or stays over time. 80% - 90% of breast lumps are not cancer.
  • If a lump in your breast increases in the size, or your entire breast changes in size (gets visibly smaller or larger). Painful lumps are less likely to be due to cancer.
  • Your nipple begins to draw-in.
  • There is dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast.
  • There is a change in the contour (shape) of your breast.
  • You have bloody or watery nipple discharge.
  • Redness, scaling or inflammation of the nipple.
  • Your breast becomes red, swollen or hot.
  • A lump under your arm / in your armpit.

Screening for cancer is looking for an early cancer when there are no symptoms or reason to believe there may be cancer present. This is different from diagnosis, which is looking for a suspected cancer found on a screening mammogram or a physical examination.

On top of your regular self-exams, B.C. women may be eligible for regular screening mammograms.

  • Mammograms are x-rays of the breasts. A screening mammogram looks for an unsuspected, hidden cancer in women who are healthy and who have never had breast cancer.
  • The Screening Mammography Program in British Columbia (SMPBC) encourages healthy women to have regular screening mammograms. The goal of this program is to detect cancers at the smallest and earliest stages possible to increase the odds of curing them with treatment. Further information about the Screening Mammography Program of BC is available on their webpages or by calling the central office in Vancouver at (604) 877-6200 or 1-800-663-3333, local 6200.
  • You can make an appointment for a free screening mammogram in B.C. once every 1-2 years without a doctor’s referral if you are a woman aged 40 - 79.
  • To make an appointment for a screening mammogram call:

Lower Mainland: (604) 877-6187

B.C. Toll-free: 1-800-663-9203

Risk Factors
No one thing causes breast cancer, but there are a few common factors that seem to increase risk of developing it:
  • Risk increases with age the risk of breast cancer doubles between ages 45 and 65.
  • A previous diagnosis of breast cancer increases the risk of additional breast cancers.
  • A family history of breast cancer, particularly breast cancer in a woman's mother, sister, or daughter increases the woman’s risk.
  • Defects or mutations in certain genes, especially BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can be passed to our children and can increase their risk of getting breast cancer. However, probably less than 5 per cent of women with breast cancer have these genes.
  • Women with a family history of cancer of the cervix, uterus or colon have a slightly increased risk.
  • Length of exposure to estrogen (early menstruation).
  • Late menopause.
  • Having taken hormone replacement therapy for more than five years.
  • Never having given birth.
  • Giving birth for the first time over the age of 30.
  • Dense breast tissue.
  • An increased number of non-cancerous cells in the breast.
  • Radiation treatment to the chest area before age 30.
  • Obesity, alcohol consumption and the use of birth control pills may also slightly increase risk.

Breast cancer treatment and care today is so customized that a specialized treatment plan is tailored to the needs of the individual patient. Breast cancer treatment may include:

  • A lumpectomy removes the tumour while conserving most of the breast.
  • A mastectomy removes the entire breast and sometimes the lymph nodes.
  • Radiation is used to treat many stages of breast cancer and frequently used after a lumpectomy.
  • Biological therapy helps the body's immune system fight cancer.
  • Herceptin is used to treat human epidermal growth factor positive (HER2) tumours.

These facts are staggering and bring much sadness to the lives that have been affected by these diseases. A future free of women's cancers starts with your commitment to walk, fundraise, and raise awareness today. Pledge to do something meaningful and sign up for The Weekend.

Compiled by Star Library
Source: Canadian Cancer Society, American Cancer Society, U.S. National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Library of Medicine, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. National Science Foundation, Star files.