Mammary carcinoma (breast cancer) is the technical name for this all too common cancer that affects one in every eleven women at some time in their life.
The absolute cause is unknown but it is more common in women who have a close relative (mother, sister, daughter) with the disease, in women who have not had a pregnancy, have not breast fed, have had a first pregnancy after 35 years, in white women, those who have had uterine cancer, and in higher socio-economic groups. On the other hand, women who start their periods late and those who have an early menopause have a lower incidence of breast cancer. About 2% of all breast cancers occur in men as they have a tiny amount of breast tissue present just under the nipple.
Extraordinarily, left-handed women have double the risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who are right handed.
The symptoms are a hard, fixed, tender lump in the breast which is not an infection caused by a skin cut or scratch. The nipple skin itself can become cancerous (Paget’s disease of the nipple) causing a thick, firm, rubbery feeling to the nipple. There are many other causes of lumps in the breast and less than one in ten breast lumps examined by a doctor is cancerous.
One method of detecting breast cancer is monthly self-examination. The diagnosis is confirmed by an x-ray mammogram, ultrasound scan of the breast and needle biopsy.