The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 266,120 new cases of female breast cancer in 2018, and around 40,920 people will die of it (1).
That’s a startling piece of information! These statistics highlight the need for breast cancer awareness among the current population.
Are you freaking out after finding a lump in your breast during your shower? While not all breast lumps are necessarily cancerous or metastatic, it is always better to put your doubts to rest by getting a medical diagnosis done. Wondering about the available diagnostic tests or possible treatments for breast cancer? You will find out all about that and more in this article.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Breast Cancer?
- Types Of Breast Cancer
- Signs And Symptoms
- What Causes Breast Cancer?
- Stages Of Breast Cancer
- When To See A Doctor
- Breast Cancer Diet
- Prevention Tips
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the cancer of the breast cells. All cancers are a result of mutations or changes in the genes that regulate cell growth in our body. Such mutations lead to uncontrolled replication of the concerned cells. The constant multiplication of the cells leads to the progressive development of abnormal cells that eventually form a tumor.
When it comes to breast cancer, this abnormal multiplication and development of abnormal cells occur in either the lobules or the ducts of the breast. If you didn’t already know, lobules are the glands that produce milk, whereas, ducts carry the milk from the lobules to the nipples. In some cases, breast cancer can also develop in the fatty tissues or fibrous connective tissues within the breast.
The uncontrolled cancer cells can also invade other healthy breast tissues and may also travel to the lymph nodes under the arms. These lymph nodes may make it possible for the cancer cells to move to the other parts of the body.
Breast cancer can also be classified into different types.
Types Of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is of several types. However, it is classified into two main categories – invasive and non-invasive (2).
Invasive breast cancer can spread from the ducts or lobules of the breast to other nearby areas while non-invasive cancer cannot spread from the original tissue.
These two categories of breast cancer can be used to describe many common types of breast cancer like:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – This type is non-invasive and affects the cells that line the ducts in your breasts.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) – It grows in the milk-producing glands (lobules) of your breasts and is not invasive.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma – This is the most common type of breast cancer that begins in your ducts and ends up invading the breast tissues nearby. It may continue to invade the tissues and organs nearby.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma – This cancer begins in your breast lobules, and by the time it is diagnosed, it is usually found to have spread to the nearby tissues and organs.
The following are some of the less common types of breast cancer:
- Phyllodes tumor – It grows in the connective tissues of your breasts.
- Paget disease of the nipples – It begins in the ducts, and as it progresses, it may start affecting the skin and areola of the nipples.
- Angiosarcoma – It begins in the blood vessels or lymph vessels of the breast.
- Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) – This is a rare but aggressive type of cancer that causes the lymph nodes near your breasts to become blocked.
- Triple-negative breast cancer – This rare cancer affects only 10%-20% of those who have breast cancer. Such cancers are often difficult to treat and spread rapidly.
Here are some of the common signs and symptoms exhibited by those who have breast cancer.
Signs And Symptoms
Early stages of breast cancer hardly exhibit any symptoms and may remain undetected until a mammogram is done.
One of the first signs of breast cancer is when you can feel the tumor. However, not all lumps are breast tumors.
While the signs and symptoms of breast cancer usually vary depending on its types, the following are the symptoms that are associated with most common types (3):
- A lump or tissue thickening that can be felt under the breast and is different from the surrounding tissues
- Pain in the breast
- Red or pitted skin over the entire breast
- Discharge from the nipple (that is not milk)
- A bloody discharge from the nipples
- An inverted nipple
- A swelling or lump under the arm
- Changes in the appearance of the skin of your breast
- A sudden and unexpected change in the size or shape of your breast
- Peeling, scaly, or flaky skin on the breast
If you have noticed any of the symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have breast cancer as such changes can also be due to a cyst. It is better to get yourself examined if you notice a lump in any of your breasts.
Although the exact cause of breast cancer remains unclear, certain factors increase an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
Factors that cause breast cancer are (4):
- Family history – Having any family members with breast cancer can put you at a higher risk of getting the disease.
- Age – Your risk advances with advancing age. Most types of invasive breast cancer occur in women over 55 years of age.
- Drinking alcohol
- Having breast tissues that are dense
- Gender – Women are 100 times more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
- Genetics – Women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are also at a higher risk.
- Early menstruation – Women who started menstruating before the age of 12 are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Conceiving the first child after the age of 35.
- Women who have had a late menopause, i.e., after 55 years, are also more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Women who have never become pregnant throughout their lives
- A medical history of breast cancer
While all these factors increase your risk of developing breast cancer, having one of them doesn’t necessarily mean that you may develop it.
Breast cancer has five stages.
Stages Of Breast Cancer
- Stage 0 Breast Cancer
Stage 0 is DCIS (or ductal carcinoma in situ) that remains confined to the ducts and does not spread to the nearby tissues.
- Stage 1 Breast Cancer
Stage 1 breast cancer is of two types:
Stage 1A – The lymph nodes are not affected in this stage, and the primary tumor is 2 cm (or less) wide.
Stage 1B – The cancer occurs near the lymph nodes, and the tumor is either not present in the breast, or is smaller than 2 cm.
- Stage 2 Breast Cancer
Stage 2 breast cancer is divided into two types:
Stage 2A – The tumor is usually smaller than 2 cm and has spread close to 1-3 lymph nodes. In other cases, it may be between 2 and 5 cm and doesn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage 2B – The size of the tumor is between 2 cm-5cm, and it spreads to the lymph nodes in the armpit (1-3 axillary lymph nodes). It can also be larger than 5 cm and may not spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage 3 Breast Cancer
Stage 3 breast cancer is of three types:
Stage 3A – This stage can have several types of cancer:
- The cancer can spread to 4-9 axillary lymph nodes or may even enlarge the internal mammary lymph nodes while the primary tumor could be of any size.
- Small groups of cancer cells can be found in the lymph nodes, and the tumor is usually bigger than 5 cm.
- The size of the tumors are bigger than 5 cm, and the cancer may have spread to 1-3 axillary lymph nodes or any of the nodes of the breastbone.
Stage 3B – The tumor invades the chest wall or skin and may or may not invade the lymph nodes (up to 9).
Stage 3C – The cancer can be found in 10 or more of the axillary lymph nodes, the lymph nodes close to the collarbone, or even the internal mammary nodes.
- Stage 4 Breast Cancer
The tumor can be of any size at this stage, and the cancerous cells would have spread to all the nearby as well as distant lymph nodes and distant organs.
Most women panic at the sight of breast lumps. But breast lumps can also be a result of other benign breast conditions that are not of much concern.
However, consult a doctor immediately in case any of the following events occurs.
When To See A Doctor
Visit a doctor immediately if:
- One or both your breasts have developed abnormal lumps.
- You develop swollen lymph nodes in your armpits.
The doctor will help diagnose your condition accurately with the help of the following tests.
The common tests used to diagnose breast cancer include (3):
- Mammogram – It is an imaging test that can help them observe the surface below your breast to detect any abnormal growths.
- Ultrasound – It uses sound waves to form an image of the tissues of your breasts.
- Breast Biopsy – If the above tests can’t identify your condition, your doctor may suggest a breast biopsy, where the sample tissue from a suspicious area is tested.
- MRI Scan
If breast cancer is detected, your doctor may advise any of the following treatments.
Treatment for breast cancer depends on various factors like the size of the cancer, the stage, and how far it has spread.
Some of the common treatments for breast cancer are:
- Breast Cancer Surgery
This is the most common treatment option for breast cancer. There are several types of surgery to remove the cancer – lumpectomy, mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy, axillary lymph node dissection, and contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. These types aim at removing the cancer cells from specific affected areas (3).
- Radiation Therapy
This uses high-powered radiation beams to target and kill the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment aimed at destroying the cancer cells. It is often done before or after surgery (3).
- Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy is opted for if your cancer is sensitive to hormones. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone can trigger the growth of cancerous tumors. Hormone therapy aims at blocking the production of these hormones.
- Targeted Therapy Drugs
Certain drugs or medications are now designed to attack specific abnormalities within the cancerous cells. Herceptin is one such drug that inhibits the production of the HER2 protein. This protein promotes the growth of the breast cancer cells, and thus, its inhibition may have a positive effect on the cancerous cells (5).
- Alternative Medicine
When it comes to alternative medicine, there is a range of natural ingredients known to have a positive effect on breast cancer treatments. They include the antioxidant-rich green tea, ashwagandha, and many other supplements. However, talk to your doctor before taking any additional supplements as they may interact with your ongoing treatment.
Coping with the treatment by attending support groups for breast cancer is also a major part of the treatment.
While availing the required treatments, it is also important to follow a healthy and nutritious diet to fight cancer.
Breast Cancer Diet
There is no specific diet to prevent cancer. However, your choice of lifestyle and foods can impact the growth and progression of cancer (6).
Here are some foods that are not only good for your overall health, but they may also help prevent the progression of breast cancer.
What To Eat
- A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables
- Fiber-rich foods like whole grains, legumes, and beans
- Low-fat dairy products
- Vitamin-D rich foods
- Dark green leafy veggies
- Citrus fruits
Some foods can also have a negative impact on breast cancer. They are as follows.
What Not To Eat
- Saturated and trans fats
- Red meat
Making some changes to your lifestyle can also reduce or prevent your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Cut down on your alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking tobacco.
- Manage your weight.
- Lead a physically active lifestyle.
- Breastfeed your little one instead of depending on other alternatives.
- Limit your dose and duration of hormone therapy.
- Stay away from pollution and avoid exposure to radiation.
Breast cancer can be treated if detected early. So, be aware of your body and don’t neglect even the slightest change in your breasts. Hope this article was able to give you an insight into breast cancer and the available treatment options. Share your thoughts and feedback with us in the comments section below.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Are breast cancer lumps painful?
Most breast cancer lumps are hard and painless. However, some lumps may also be painful.
What are the side effects breast of cancer treatment options?
Side effects may vary according to the treatment. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, sores in the mouth, hair loss, weight gain, early menopause, diarrhea, bleeding, and weakened immunity.
Will breast cancer treatments cause menopause?
Yes, some breast cancer treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapies can trigger early menopause in women.
Which treatment do you recommend over the others for breast cancer?
The most common treatment for breast cancer is surgery. This may be followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Other treatments like hormone therapy and targeted therapy may also be availed depending on the cancer type and stage. It is best to have a detailed discussion with your doctor about the best available treatment for your condition.
If your mother had breast cancer, what are your chances of getting it?
If your mother had breast cancer, your risk of developing it becomes two-fold or doubled.
From what age can you get breast cancer?
Women aged 50 years or above are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. But, it can also strike at any age in rare cases.
What is the most aggressive kind of breast cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer is an extremely rare but one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. It causes the lymph nodes near your breasts to become blocked.
How long can you live after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
Most women diagnosed with breast cancer survive for at least 5 years or more. Some may even survive for much longer depending on the stage and type of cancer.
1. “Cancer Stat Facts: Female Breast Cancer” National Cancer Insitute, Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, US Department of Health and Human Services.
2. “VARIOUS TYPES AND MANAGEMENT OF BREAST CANCER: AN OVERVIEW” Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, US National Library of Medicine.
3. “Breast cancer: Overview” Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, US National Library of Medicine.
4. “Lifestyle changes for prevention of breast cancer” Electronic Physician, US National Library of Medicine.
5. “The role of Herceptin in early breast cancer” International Seminars in Surgical Oncology, US National Library of Medicine.
6. “The Role of Diet and Lifestyle in Women with Breast Cancer: An Update Review of Related Research in the Middle East” BioResearch Open Access, US National Library of Medicine.
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