What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is cancer that forms inside the cells of the breast.
After skin disease, breast cancer is found as the most common disease diagnosed in women in the United States. This can occur in both men and women, but it is much more common in women.
Substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped create advancements in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Now the breast cancer survival rates have increased and the number of deaths associated with this disease is steadily decreasing, largely due to factors such as earlier detection of this disease, a new approach for treating this disease, and a better understanding of the disease.
Types of breast cancer
There are several types of breast cancer and they fall into two main categories: “invasive” and “non-invasive” or in situ. Although invasive cancer has spread from the mammary ducts or glands to other parts of the breast, non-invasive cancer has not spread from the original tissue.
These two categories are used to describe the most common types of breast cancer, including:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive condition. With DCIS, the disease cells are confined to the ducts in the breast and have not invaded the surrounding breast tissue.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ: Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is a disease that grows in the milk-producing glands of the breast. Like DCIS, the cancer cells have not invaded the surrounding tissue.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is one of the most common types of breast cancer. This type of disease begins in the breast milk ducts and then invades nearby tissues in the breast. Once breast cancer has spread to tissue outside of the milk ducts, it can begin to spread to other nearby organs and tissues.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) first develops in the lobules of the breast and has invaded nearby tissue.
Other less common types of breast cancer include:
- Paget’s disease of the nipple: This type of disease in the breast begins in the ducts of the nipple, but as it grows, it begins to affect the skin and areola of the nipple.
- Phyllodes tumor: This is a very rare type of disease in the breast which grows in the connective tissue of the breast. Most of these tumors in the breast are benign, but some are cancerous.
This is a disease that grows in the blood or lymphatic vessels of the breast.
Causes of breast cancer
Doctors know that breast cancer occurs when some cells in the breast begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide faster than healthy cells and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells can spread (metastasize) through the breast to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Breast cancer most usually begins with cells in the milk-producing ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma). This disease can also start in the glandular tissue called lobules (invasive lobular carcinoma) or other cells or tissue within the breast.
Researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle, and environmental factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer. But it is not clear why some people who do not have risk factors develop cancer, while other people with risk factors never do. This disease is likely caused by a complex interplay of your genetic makeup and your environment.
A risk factor for breast cancer is anything that increases your chances of having this disease. But having one or even more risk factors for this disease does not necessarily mean that you will develop breast cancer. Most of the women who develop this disease have no known risk factors other than simply being women.
Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:
- To be a woman: Women are much more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
- Advanced age: Your risk of breast cancer increases with age.
- Personal history of breast conditions: If you had a breast biopsy that found lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical breast hyperplasia, you have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Personal history: If you have had breast cancer in one breast, you have a higher risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
- Family history: If your mother, sister, or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, especially at a young age, your risk of breast cancer increases. Still, most people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
- Inherited genes that increase the risk of cancer: Certain genetic mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer can be passed from parent to child. The best known genetic mutations are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes can greatly increase your risk of breast and other cancers, but they do not make disease inevitable.
- Radiation exposure: If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer increases.
- Obesity increases the risk.
- Starting your period at an earlier age: Starting your period before age 12 increases your risk of breast cancer.
- The onset of menopause at a later age: If you started menopause at a later age, you are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Have your first child at an older age: Women who give birth to their first child after the age of 30 may have an increased risk of breast cancer mostly.
- Never have been pregnant: Women who have never been pregnant have a higher risk than women who have had one or more pregnancies.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Women who take hormone therapy drugs that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of this disease decreases when women stop taking these drugs.
- Drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer.
Symptoms of breast cancer
- A lump or thickening in the breasts that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the breast size, breast shape, or appearance of a breast
- Changes in the skin over the breast, such as dimples
- A newly inverted nipple
- Scaling, crusting, or peeling of the pigmented area of skin around the nipple (areola) or the skin of the breast
- Redness or pitting of the skin on the chest, like the skin of an orange.
Diagnosis of breast cancer
To determine if your symptoms are caused by or a benign breast condition, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam in addition to a breast exam. They may also order one or more diagnostic tests to help understand what is causing your symptoms.
Tests that can help to diagnose may include:
- Mammography: The most common way to see below the surface of your breast is with an imaging test called a mammogram. Many women age 40 and older have annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. If your doctor suspects you may have a tumor or a suspicious site, she will also order a mammogram. If an abnormal area is seen on your mammogram, your doctor may order additional tests.
- Ultrasound: A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the deep tissues of the breast. An ultrasound can make help your doctor distinguish between a solid mass, such as a tumor, and a benign cyst.
Treatment of breast cancer
The stage of your breast cancer, how far it has invaded (if so), and how large the tumor has grown all play a role in determining the type of treatment you will need.
To start, your doctor will determine the size, stage, and grade of your cancer (how likely it is to grow and spread). After that, you can discuss your treatment options. Surgery treatment is the most common treatment in women. Many women receive additional treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.
Several types of surgery can be used to remove breast cancer, including:
- This procedure removes the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue, leaving the rest of the breast intact.
- Mastectomy: In this procedure, a surgeon removes the complete breast; In a double mastectomy, both breasts are completely removed.
- Sentinel node biopsy: This surgery removes some of the lymph nodes that receive drainage from the tumor. These lymph nodes will be examined. If they do not have cancer, you may not need additional surgery to remove more lymph nodes.
- Axillary lymph node dissection: If the lymph nodes removed during a sentinel node biopsy contain cancer cells, your doctor may remove more lymph nodes.
- Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy: Although it can be present in only one breast, some women choose to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This type of surgery removes your healthy breast for reducing your risk of developing this disease once again.
With radiation therapy, high-powered radiation beams are used to attack and destroy cancer cells. Most radiation treatments use external beam radiation. This technique uses a large machine on the outside of the body.
Advances in cancer treatment have also allowed doctors to radiate cancer from within the body. This type of radiation treatment is called brachytherapy. To perform brachytherapy, surgeons place radioactive seeds or pellets inside the body near the site of the tumor. The seeds are staying there for a short period of time and work for destroying cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that is used to kill cells. Some people can undergo chemotherapy on its own, but this type of treatment is often used in conjunction with other treatments, especially surgery.
In some cases, doctors prefer to give chemotherapy to patients before surgery. The hope is that the treatment will shrink the tumor, and then the surgery won’t have to be as invasive. Chemotherapy has many unwanted side effects, so you should discuss your concerns with your doctor before starting treatment.
If your type of breast cancer is hormone-sensitive, your doctor may start hormone therapy. Two hormones are Estrogen and progesterone, two female hormones are there, which can stimulate the growth of tumors. Hormone therapy works by blocking the body’s production of these hormones or by blocking hormone receptors on cancer cells. This action can help to make slow and possibly stop the growth of your disease in the breast.
Certain treatments are designed to target specific abnormalities or mutations within cancer cells. For example, Herceptin (trastuzumab) can block the production of the HER2 protein in your body. HER2 helps breast cancer cells grow, so taking a drug to decrease the production of this protein can help slow disease growth.
If you notice an unusual lump or spot on your breast or have other symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. It is most likely not breast cancer. For example, there are many other potential causes of breast lumps.
But if your problem turns out to be cancer, keep in mind that early treatment is the key. Early-stage can often be treated and cured if it is found quickly enough. The longer breast cancer is allowed to grow, the makes difficult treatment.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, keep in mind that disease treatments continue to improve, as do the results. So need to follow your treatment plan according to your Doctor and try to stay positive. Learn more about the outlook for the different stages of this disease.
9 out of 10, women are the first to notice a breast lump or mass. It is usually not painful, but it can cause an unusual sensation in the area where the lump is.
When a tumor grows, the size or shape of the breast can change. Also, the nipple can contract, or part of the skin to contract, causing what looks like a dimple to appear. Other symptoms may include a lump or swelling in the armpit and redness or swelling of the breast.
A breast that develops a red rash should be evaluated for breast cancer, even in the absence of a lump.
While these may be signs of this disease, they can also indicate another non-cancerous condition. In fact, about 8 out of 10 breast growths are not cancerous. However, always try to consult with a doctor to determine the exact cause of the lump.
One of the most serious complications of this disease is metastasis. This is when some cells from a tumor break off and move to other areas of the body, either through the blood or lymphatic vessels, invading tissue at new and possibly distant sites. When cancer cells metastasize, they most commonly reach the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones, brain, and skin. It may take years, even after the breast tumor is diagnosed and treated, before the disease that has spread from the original tumor appears.
Once metastatic tumors are discovered, cancer has likely spread to other places as well, even if they are not detected.
Departments to consult for this condition
- Department of oncology