Whether you or a loved one are worried about developing breast cancer, have just been diagnosed, are going through breast cancer treatment, or are trying to stay well after treatment; we are all in this together. We must prioritise caring for one another and spreading awareness to ensure early detection.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast and can develop in one or both breasts. Cancer occurs when cells begin to grow out of control. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too. 

It is important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not malignant (cancerous). Non-cancer breast tumours are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change in your breasts needs to be checked by a health care professional to find out if it is benign or malignant (cancerous) and if it might affect your future cancer risk.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

It is not known yet what causes each case of breast cancer. However, there are many risk factors that causes it. For example, lifestyle-related risk factors such as what you eat and how much you exercise can increase your chance of developing breast cancer, but it’s not known exactly how some of these risk factors cause normal cells to become cancer. Hormones also seem to play a role in many cases of breast cancer, but just how this happens is not fully understood.

Normal breast cells can become cancer because of changes or mutations in genes. Only about 1 in 10 breast cancers (10%) are linked with known abnormal genes that are inherited (passed on from parents). Many genes have not yet been discovered, so women with a family history of breast cancer might have inherited an abnormal gene that doesn’t show on a genetic test. Most breast cancers (about 90%) develop from acquired (not inherited) gene changes that have not yet been identified. 

Normal cells have genes called proto-oncogenes, which help control when the cells grow, divide to make new cells, or stay alive. If a proto-oncogene is mutated (changed) in a certain way, it becomes an oncogene. Cells that have these mutated oncogenes can become cancerous.

Early Detection and Awareness

  • Symptoms to look out for:
  • A new lump or thickening in your breast or armpit
  • A change in size, shape or feel of your breast
  • Skin changes in the breast such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin
  • Fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who isn’t pregnant or breast feeding
  • Changes in the position of the nipple

Knowledge and early detection are key. The earlier women know what is normal for them, if an abnormality should arise it will be detected, treated and the outcome be more favourable.

Image Credit: Breast Cancer Ireland

Breast Cancer Ireland free to download app “Breast Aware” offers:

  • A discreet monthly reminder to your phone.
  • An outline of the eight signs and symptoms to look out for. Remember – earlier detection saves lives!

Breast Cancer Screening

Cancer screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs that could show that a cancer is developing. Breast screening uses a test called mammography which involves taking x-rays of the breasts. Screening can help to find breast cancers early when they are too small to see or feel. These tiny breast cancers are usually easier to treat than larger ones.

It is important to remember that screening will not prevent you from getting breast cancer but aims to find early breast cancers. Overall, the breast screening programme finds cancer in around 9 out of every 1,000 women having screening.

Breast Cancer Awareness in UCD

Our societies have been working hard to ensure that the students and staff at UCD are well aware of breast cancer and its importance by hosting numerous events over the past few weeks. 

UCD Women in Stem+ Society held a Bake Sale for Breast Cancer Ireland to mark the Breast cancer awareness month. On Wednesday the 12th and 19th of October, baked good were sold in front of the James Joyce Library and everyone was encouraged to dress in pink.

Image Credit: Priyanka Saini
Image Credit: @womeninstem_ucd

UCD Biology Society hosted a “Big Pink Breakfast” in aid of the Irish Cancer Society on Thursday 20th October at the Ground floor of Science East. Funds that were raised at the event went towards supporting life changing cancer research. 

Image Credit: Priyanka Saini

Both societies had donation boxes set up where students were seen generously donating towards research.

Priyanka Saini – Science Correspondent