What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the most widely-diagnosed cancer among women, especially over the age of 50. It may occur in men as well, but quite rarely. Breast cancer occurs as a result of abnormal mutations in genes and can either be ductal carcinoma (forming in milk ducts) or lobular carcinoma (forming in glands).
Exclusively forming in a breast with a lump or thickened tissue, some cancer types may take years to spread and reach to other body parts as well. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle with a regular medical examination of breasts is vital for individuals who want to stay healthy.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Age, gender, physical activity, lifestyle, environment, and genetic modification are a few causes of breast cancer. Breast cancer begins as a tumor or microcalcification and can travel to other body organs or lymph nodes via blood.
Usually, women who are over 50 or those who are late at menopause are at higher risk of getting it. Genetic factors (mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) lead to the lump formation in ducts or breast lobes and hence are the main cause of breast cancers.
Other factors which increase the likelihood of breast cancer include:
- Dense breast tissue
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Hormonal disturbance or overexposure to estrogen
- Use of birth control pills
- Overexposure to radiation
Types of Breast Cancer
There are primarily two types of breast cancers; invasive breast cancer and non-invasive breast cancer. As the name indicates, invasive breast cancer spreads out of the breast ducts while the non-invasive breast cancer stays confined to the breast ducts, rarely forming a lump.
Inflammatory breast cancer is also a type of breast cancer, belonging to stage 3 or 4, which advances aggressively while causing swelling and reddening of the breasts. It rarely forms a tumor; rather it infiltrates the lymph nodes often followed by constant itching.
Other types are:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
- Invasive lobular carcinoma
- Triple-negative breast cancer
- Paget disease of the nipple1
- Phyllodes tumor
Almost 80% of all breast cancers are entitled to be Hormone Receptive-Positive breast cancers, mainly estrogen positive or progesterone positive breast cancers and can be treated by hormone therapy. Around 20% of the breast cancers are claimed to be HER2-Positive cancers. These types of cancers grow aggressively and can be treated by drugs followed by chemotherapy.
Certain factors that may be linked with breast cancers are:
- Higher intake of alcohol
- Birth control
- Breast implants
- Hormone therapy after menopause
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Giving birth at an older age
- Late menopause (after the age of 55)
- Mechanism and stages of development of breast cancers
Breast cancer, like other cancers, is a slow and steady process which may often proceed without any serious symptoms. It consists of 5 stages listed as under:
- Stage 0: Stage 0 breast cancers are usually ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) as they remain limited within a duct. Hence, they can be categorized as non-invasive cancers.
- Stage 1: Stage 1 propagates a very limited spread of breast cancer, usually around a tiny area of a lymph node.
- Stage 2: Stage 2 prompts an increase in the movement of cancer around nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: This crucial stage is associated with a rapid spread of cancer over the muscles, skin and lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: Stage 4 breast cancers are the secondary or metastatic cancers that have destructively spread across the body organs. These are usually treated with systemic (drug) therapies.
Breast cancer detection and diagnosis
Self-exam, breast biopsy, MRI, as well as imaging tests like mammograms (film/digital) or ultrasounds are significant ways used to examine your breasts for any abnormal growth activity. The important features to observe in a self-exam comprise of checking for any discharge, changes in shape or size, or presence of any lumps. Usually, needle aspiration and surgical biopsy are the main methods employed to examine breast tissues for cancer.
Breast cancer symptoms
Breast cancer development initiates with certain signs which may bother individuals, thereby inducing physical changes that further indicate the presence of cancer in a detection test. Most common breast cancer symptoms are:
- Breast pain
- Reddening of breast
- Lump formation
- Inflammation or thickening of breast tissue
- Scaling and pitting
- The occurrence of bloody discharge from nipples
- Breast deformation/size or shape disturbance
- Lump formation in your armpit
- Inverting of nipples
These breasts cancer signs serve as important information which can lead to the careful examination of your breasts.
Different methodologies are used in the treatment of breast cancers, depending upon the stage of cancer. The common measures include:
Surgery (Lumpectomy, Mastectomy, Sentinel node biopsy, Axillary lymph node dissection, Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy)
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy2
Sometimes, cancers can reoccur in a breast, lymph node, surgical scar, or any nearby organ. Recurrent breast cancers can be treated depending upon what kind of treatments a person has had before.
In case of the advanced type of cancers like Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), constant local as well as systemic treatment is required to ensure survival.
Certain women, who are prone to having breast cancers that run in the family, are usually recommended to opt for the prophylactic mastectomy option as it involves the surgical removal of a breast, which ultimately reduces the risk of having breast cancer.
Though the exact factors known to influence the genetic makeup of breast cells are not clear yet, according to versatile studies, different strategies could be adopted to prevent your breasts from cancer. These strategies include consuming healthy food, body weight maintenance, active lifestyle, limited alcohol intake, and regular breast screening, among others.
Breast cancer awareness
Fortunately, the perks of rapidly increasing science, technology, and research have blessed us with tremendous knowledge about breast cancer progression, its causes, care, and treatments. Each year breast cancer month (October) is celebrated around the globe. Different seminars and awareness programs are held throughout the year to help people learn about breast cancer awareness. The pink ribbon and pink color, in general, represent breast cancer awareness and thus, account for solidarity and support for breast cancer patients and survivors.
- BreastCancer.org – Paget’s Disease of the Nipple
- American Cancer Society – Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer