Breast cancer is the most frequent malignant tumor among the population and the most common in the female population. Every year, more than 2.2 million new cases are diagnosed, and at least 684 thousand patients die from this cause around the world. In Trinidad and Tobago, breast cancer is also the most common in women: 574 new cases and 257 deaths, according to Globocan statistics for 2020 – the most recent available.
In commemoration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Roche Pharmaceuticals reiterates the importance of early detection and diagnosis as the most important tool to fight this disease. The earlier it is detected, the greater the chances of survival for the patient.
"Paying attention to any alteration in the breasts is recommended. This includes tenderness on palpation, nipple discharge, changes in skin colour or texture and/or lumpy masses, hardening or sagging of breasts, nipples and/or armpits. Breast self-examination allows getting to know breasts and identifying any changes. However, a mammogram is the diagnostic method par excellence and it must be performed annually from the age of 45," explained Dr Naresh Nandram, MD, Medical Ecosystem Partner for Roche Trinidad and Tobago.
In terms of risk factors for breast cancer, the main one is being a woman; followed by age, family history, having had breast cancer, women who have not had children or those who have them from the age of 40, obesity, oral contraceptives, environmental pollution, hormone replacement therapy, alcohol, among others.
What are the types of breast cancer?
Breast cancer is not a single disease and knowing the biological and genetic aspects of the cancer cells that cause it (proteins or receptors) is important in order to provide the best treatment to each patient and increase their life prognosis.
According to Dr Nandram, breast cancer is characterised by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the milk-producing glands of the breast or in the ducts that carry milk to the nipples. "The type of breast cancer will be defined by the presence or absence of three receptors found on the surface of cells: the estrogen receptor (ER), the progesterone receptor (PR) and the growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)."
This disease is classified into three large groups or subtypes, as shown. Below, the details:
Hormone receptor positive: It accounts for 62% of breast cancer cases. This malignant tumor grows in response to oestrogen and progesterone hormones. Thus, their chances of responding to treatments aimed at inhibiting hormone growth effects are good.
HER2-positive: It is an aggressive type of cancer which responds to treatments specifically targeting the protein known as HER2. This type of cancer occurs in 18% of cases.
Triple negative: It is characterised by the presence of cancer cells that do not express oestrogen, progesterone or HER2 receptors. It is an aggressive and difficult to treat type of cancer, as it generally does not respond to standard treatments. It accounts for about 20% of this disease.
"Currently, treatments for this disease are increasingly targeted and respond according to the molecular information of the tumor. Thanks to these advances, about 85% of women survive the disease five years after being diagnosed", mentioned Dr Nandram.
Early diagnosis is key
In Latin America, between 30% - 40% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage, complicating health conditions and life expectancy.
Understanding the nature of the tumor allows for the designing of a targeted and effective treatment plan.
As a result of an early diagnosis coupled with Medicine advances, this disease is no longer considered as synonymous with death.
"It is essential that the population knows the risk factors and signs and when there is suspicion, visit their healthcare provider to be screened and get a diagnosis as early as possible. Unfortunately, in the country such early-stage diagnosis is one of the main challenges in terms of breast cancer. Thus, we must unite so that there is greater knowledge and awareness about the importance of a life-saving, timely diagnosis,” concluded Dr Nandram.
Observatorio Global de Cáncer. https://gco.iarc.fr/today/home. Last entry: October 14, 2021.
AmericanCancerSociety. https://www.cancer.org/es/cancer/cancer-de-seno.html. Last entry: October 14, 2021.
ARTICLE SUBMITTED BY ROCHE PHARMACEUTICALS