What causes breast cancer in women

Breast cancer - do women get sick earlier and earlier?

Emotional news in the media brings the issue of breast cancer into the consciousness of every individual. Everyone knows someone who has breast cancer or has already noticed a lump in their breasts. No wonder, because: Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. According to the Robert Koch Institute, every ninth woman in Germany is affected - and the trend is rising.

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More and more women get sick

According to the World Cancer Report of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014, the number of all cancers worldwide is expected to increase by two thirds by 2030. Breast cancer is the most common diagnosis after lung cancer. And what many do not know: Men can also get breast cancer, even if it happens very rarely.

Breast cancer in numbers

  • Around 70,000 women and 600 men develop breast cancer in Germany every year.
  • In the World Cancer Report 2012, breast cancer was second in the list of the most common types of cancer, behind lung cancer, with almost 12 percent of all cases.

Are women getting younger and younger breast cancer?

Miriam Pielhau and Jana Thiel were just in their early and mid-40s, respectively. Many people therefore wonder whether younger and younger women are getting breast cancer. In fact, this is not the case: "Less than a third of women with breast cancer are under 55 years of age," says Dr. Dankwart Rachor, gynecologist at the TK medical center. "Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are between 45 and 65 years old."

Risk of disease by age

  • At the age of 45, one in 47 women can expect to develop breast cancer within the next ten years. At 55 it is one of 34 women.
  • The risk of illness is greatest at 65 - one in 28 women will be ill.
  • In comparison, at the age of 35, only one in 110 women has to fear that they will fall ill within the next ten years.

(Source: Center for Cancer Registry Data)

Why breast cancer is becoming more common

The circumstances that cause breast cancer are the subject of many, sometimes large, studies. From them it can be deduced that in addition to age, several other factors also influence the risk of the disease:

  • The use of female sex hormones and hormone replacement therapy
  • Unhealthy eating habits and obesity
  • Alcohol consumption and smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Inherited risk genes
  • Environmental factors such as radiation exposure
  • An early onset and late termination menstrual period

Experts also agree that improved diagnostic procedures and breast cancer screening, to which all 50 to 69-year-old women are invited every two years in Germany, are jointly responsible for the increased number of breast cancer. This is because carcinomas are detected earlier and more frequently.

Perhaps it is also due to the fact that nowadays fewer women are having more and more children and are breastfeeding. Because individual studies indicate that this can protect against breast cancer.

Heredity: only a few women are at risk

The idea of ​​carrying risk genes that have an impact on breast cancer development is worrying for many - especially since US actress Angelina Jolie publicly announced in 2013 that she had both breasts removed as a precautionary measure for fear of breast cancer.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the names of these breast cancer genes that everyone carries. If these genes mutate, the risk of developing breast cancer multiplies. The predisposition to this can be passed on within the family. However, it is estimated that only about five to a maximum of ten patients in a hundred are affected by such a mutation. BRCA is an abbreviation for BReast CAncer, the English expression for breast cancer. In the meantime, however, a few other genetic changes are known that may be involved in the development of breast cancer, but their actual influence is still unclear.

And what many people do not know: Men can also carry the changed genes. Male gene carriers are more likely to develop colon or prostate cancer, but also breast cancer. If the gene is detected, regular examinations can help detect possible tumors at an early stage.

Shock - a lump in the chest

The fear of breast cancer runs deep among many women. The shock is correspondingly great when suddenly, for example, a lump in the chest can be felt. However, it doesn't have to be a malignant change, whether or not it causes pain. For example, fluid-filled cavities, so-called cysts, can also form in the breast tissue. They are more than 99 percent benign and do not increase the risk of breast cancer.

Whether discovered by themselves or by a doctor: "Women should have every lump in the breast examined," advises Dr. Rickets. "The lump is probably harmless, but an investigation is important to be sure." Other changes to the breast can include:

  • The shape and size of the breast have changed.
  • The skin pents or bulges, also known as orange peel.
  • Fluid leaks from the nipple.

With the help of an X-ray examination of the breast, a mammography, changes can be assessed in detail - even if they are still very small. If necessary, further examinations can be carried out, such as an ultrasound examination or the removal of a tissue sample.

Early detection with mammography screening

Women between 50 and 69 years of age are entitled to take part in a statutory mammography screening examination every two years. The X-ray examination helps to detect breast cancer as early as possible and thus increase the chances of recovery.

One of the successes of the screening program is that a few years after its introduction, breast cancer is more frequently detected at an early stage and the number of late diagnoses is falling.

But there is also criticism of the regular mammography screening examinations. Among other things, it should be borne in mind that women often have to endure stressful interventions such as tissue removal afterwards, even though the tumors found are ultimately benign or belong to a so-called precancerous stage. Also, not every tumor inevitably develops into a life-threatening cancer. More information on mammography screening.