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The breast cancer battle

Progress towards the possible prevention and cure of breast cancer is undoubtedly being made, but where exactly are we in the fight against this ever-spreading disease? What are the current statistics on breast cancer, what are the alternatives for treatment and are we getting any closer to making it a thing of our past?

The facts

Female breast cancer rates have increased by almost 70 per cent since the mid ’70s. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer for U.K. women is one in eight and 80 per cent of breast cancer cases are detected in women over the age of 50. Despite advances in breast screening equipment (perhaps because of such advances), breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the U.K. and now almost 400 men a year are also being diagnosed.

The good news

Despite those gloomy statistics, there is a ray of light on the horizon. Whereas only five out of every 10 women diagnosed with the disease survived beyond five years of treatment in the 1970s, that figure is now eight out of 10. More than three-quarters of those diagnosed today are now twice as likely to survive the disease for ten years or more and around 90 per cent of women diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer now survive for more than five years. Of course, the earlier the detection, the better. In the last ten years, death rates from breast cancer have fallen by almost one-fifth.

What causes it?

There are many causes, but mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase risk, as does obesity, an ever-growing problem on U.K. shores. Other risk factors are the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), drinking alcohol and using birth control. One easy thing to do to help prevent breast cancer is moderate daily exercise, with 1,700 cases of breast cancer in the U.K. currently linked to an inactive lifestyle.

What are the treatment options?

Mastectomy and lymph node dissection surgery are options many women take, while others opt for chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or radiation. Clinical trials are ongoing so patients can always sign up for what may prove to be ground-breaking new treatment. Holistic treatment is also popular as many patients swear by its pain-relieving effects, if not its ability to cure. The advice, however, is always to get a second opinion before committing to any form of treatment.

So are we close to a cure?

Back in 2009, British researchers reported finding a way to stop breast cancer tumors from growing, claiming they were “close to a cure,” but we have yet to hear more. The numbers diagnosed aren’t comforting, but the increasing survival rates are and, with a healthy lifestyle, women have as good a chance as ever of being among the seven out of eight who do not catch the disease during their lifetime. If there is any history of breast cancer in the family, however, the advice remains the same: Keep a close eye on your health and get yourself regularly screened.