What Is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control.

How To Prevent Breast Cancer? Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatments

Overview

Cancer generally occurs when your body’s cells start to grow and divide out of control.

Breast cancer is the kind of cancer that develops in the breast.

This type of cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but in some rare cases, men can also get breast cancer.

According to ‘The World Health Organization Breast cancer is the 2nd leading type of cancer worldwide, accounting for 2.09 million overall cases in 2018, and responsible for 627,000 deaths.

But with the prevention, early detection, and diagnosis, most cases of breast cancer can be treatable. For this reason, it’s vital that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always have them examined by a general practitioner.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
  • Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange

Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.

If you find sudden changes in your breasts, such as the appearance of lumps, make an appointment with your doctor for further examinations even if your recent mammogram was normal.  

Usually, breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), but it’s always best to be safe and get examined by a doctor.

Causes

The specific causes of breast cancer are often unknown.

Doctors typically can not pinpoint why one woman develops breast cancer and others don’t. However, what specialists do know, is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell’s DNA.

These cancer cells grow and divide more quickly than your healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass.

Cells can spread (metastasize) through your breast into other parts of your body, including the lymph nodes.

While there are no fixed causes for breast cancer, researchers have found that certain lifestyle, hormonal, or environmental risk factors may sometimes increase the chances of it.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases the chances of you getting a disease. Keep in mind that if you have one or even several of these risk factors, it won’t necessarily mean that you will develop breast cancer. 

Some of these risk factors may include:

  • Family History: Doctors estimate that about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations passed through generations of a family.

If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or other cancers, your doctor may recommend a blood test to help identify specific mutations in BRCA (Breast Cancer Gene) or other genes that are being passed through your family.

If your mother, sister, or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly at a young age, your risk of breast cancer is increased. Still, the majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

  • Gender: Women are 100 times more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
  • Increasing age: Two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
  • Race:  Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer than women of other races.
  • A personal history of breast conditions: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future.

Also, if abnormal breast cells have been discovered before, you are more likely to develop breast cancer.

  • Menstrual and Reproductive History:  Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age (later than 30), or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
  • Radiation Exposure. If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer is increased.
  • Dense Breast Tissue:  If you have dense breast tissue, you might have an increased chance of breast cancer. Having dense breast tissue may make lumps harder to detect. Discuss with your doctor if you have dense breast tissue and they will demonstrate what the risks are.
  • Lack of Physical Activity:  A lifestyle where there is little to no physical exercise can make you more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Poor Diet:  If your daily diet lacks proper fruits and vegetables, and instead consists of saturated fats, it may increase your risk for breast cancer.  
  • Being Overweight or Obese:  Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risks of breast cancer. Your risk is increased if you have already gone through menopause.
  • Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy: Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer decreases when women stop taking these medications.
  • Drinking Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Diagnosing breast cancer

After examining your breasts, your doctor may refer you to a specialist or a breast cancer clinic for further tests. There, you may undergo a mammography (breast screening) or a biopsy (taking a small sample of breast tissue to be examined under a microscope).

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will most likely encounter a variety of terms used to describe your cancer.

Depending on your breast biopsy, your doctor will understand vital information. You may also need more tests to get more details, such as the stage of cancer or how fast it’s growing.

Types Of Breast Cancer

There are several different types of breast cancer, which develop in different parts of the breast.

Breast cancer is often divided into these 2 categories:

  • Non-invasive breast cancer (carcinoma in situ): This type is found in the ducts of the breast (ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS) and has not spread into the breast tissue surrounding the ducts. Non-invasive breast cancer is usually found during a mammogram and breast lumps are rarely developed.
  • Invasive breast cancer: In this type, the cancer cells have spread through the lining of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. This is considered to be the most common type of breast cancer.

Other, less common types of breast cancer include:

  • Invasive (and pre-invasive) lobular breast cancer
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Paget’s disease of the breast

Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body, usually through the blood or the axillary lymph nodes. These are small lymphatic glands that filter bacteria and cells from the mammary gland.

If this happens, it’s known as secondary, or metastatic, breast cancer.

Treatment Of Breast Cancer

The type of treatment you have for your cancer will mostly depend on the type of breast cancer and the stage of cancer you have. Your doctor should discuss the best treatment plan with you.

 If cancer is detected at an early stage, it can be treated before it spreads to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer is usually treated using a combination of:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy

Surgery is usually the first type of treatment you’ll have, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy or, in some cases, hormone or targeted treatments.

In a small proportion of women, breast cancer is discovered later, after it’s spread to other parts of the body. This type of cancer is known as Metastatic Breast Cancer.

Secondary cancer also called advanced or metastatic cancer, is not curable, so treatments mostly aim to reduce or relieve symptoms.

After being treated for breast cancer, if desired, women can consider breast reconstruction surgeries.

Prevention Of Breast Cancer

Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening such as mammograms and clinical breast exams.

Discuss with your doctor what the benefits and drawbacks of breast screenings are. With the help of your specialist, you can come to a strategy that is best for you.

Implementing some daily life habits may help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

You can do the following:

1. Perform self-breast exams: Women may choose to become familiar with their breasts by occasionally inspecting their breasts during a breast self-exam for breast awareness.

It’s important to remember that if you see any sudden changes in the appearance of your breasts, including lumps, or any other unusual signs in your breasts, you should talk with your physician as soon as possible.

Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy: Some women experience bothersome signs and symptoms during menopause and, for these women, the increased risk of breast cancer may be acceptable to relieve menopause signs and symptoms.

To lower the chances of breast cancer, you may try the lowest doses of hormone therapy, for the shortest amount of time.

2. Limit your alcohol intake: Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all to no more than one drink a day.

3. Maintain a healthy weight and diet: If you have a healthy balanced weight, try to keep that weight. If you have talked with your doctor and established that you need to lose weight, discuss strategies with them, and lower the intake of saturated fats.

4. Exercise frequently: Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. It’s been suggested that regular exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer by almost as much as a third.

If you haven’t been active lately, ask your doctor whether it’s okay and start slowly and don’t strain yourself.

Prevention For High-Risk Patients

If your doctor has discussed your family history and evaluated that you have other factors, such as a precancerous breast condition, that increase your risk of breast cancer, you can choose options to reduce your risk.

These are:

  • Medications (chemoprevention): Some estrogen-blocking medications, including selective estrogen receptor modulators and aromatase inhibitors, have shown results to reduce the chances of breast cancer development in women with a high risk of the disease.

These types of medications can have many risks and side effects, therefore doctors only reserve this kind of prevention method for patients who are at a very high risk of developing breast cancer.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and the benefits of this treatment with you before you settle on anything.

  • Surgery: Some women who are very likely to develop breast cancer may choose to have their healthy breasts and/or ovaries surgically removed, which can lower the risk of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Bottom Line

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you may start to think differently about your body. Women have different mindsets when it comes to their physical appearances being altered by cancer treatment. 

While some patients react positively, others find it more difficult to cope. It’s important to know that anything you feel towards your body is normal, and should allow yourself some time before you come to terms with any changes to your body.

If you choose to have breast reconstructive surgery, make sure you do your thorough research.

If you have additional inquiries, you can always ask our team of medical experts for help, via our free medical consultation services.  

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