Breast cancer is a disease in which the breast cells grow without any control. In this article, you will learn all you need to know.
After skin cancer, this is the most common type of cancer in women, although it can happen to men as well. Within this article, you will find answers to some of the most frequent questions about this disease. Among them, there will be questions like is breast cancer painful? What can increase or reduce the risk? Or what are its types? But before reaching that point, there will be brief explanations about the basic concepts of the disease.
The reader will have critical insights about breast cancer, its symptoms, complications, and treatment by reading this article. Therefore, please continue reading this article to get pearls on this specific topic by a doctor’s hand.
What is Breast Cancer, and how does it happen?
Breast cancer is a variety of cancer that may affect either women or men. It occurs when some of the cells begin to grow abnormally. Breast cancer cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and continue to accumulate, forming a breast lump or mass.
Typically these abnormal cells tend to replicate in the milk-producing ducts of the breast. They can also appear in the glandular tissue called lobules or in other cells. Although it does not exist a specific cause for this condition, several risk factors may intervene in its development. Hormonal, lifestyle, and environmental factors may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
However, it is unclear why people without risk factors develop cancer and why people with risk factors never do. Breast cancer is likely the result of a complex interaction of the genetic makeup and environment, causing a gene mutation. These abnormal cells may get from the breast to the lymph nodes in the armpit. These are a primary pathway that will help the cells move to other parts of the body.
What are the early signs of breast cancer?
Breast cancer in the early stages may not be visible or cause any symptoms. In fact, in many cases, a tumor may be too small to be felt, but it can still be seen on a mammogram.
If the patient can feel a tumor, the first sign of it is habitually a novel lump in the breast that was not there previously. If anything like that happens, the patient should visit a doctor for a breast cancer screening. However, patients should know that not all lumps are breast cancer.
There are many types of breast cancer, and each one of them can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Within this list, you will find some of the most common symptoms of early breast cancer.
- Redness and/or pitted skin over the entire breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
- Skin changes as swelling or thickening in the breast
- New lump in the breast or under the arm (Armpit)
- Any alteration in the size or aspect of the breast
- Inverted nipple
- Skin changes as peeling, scaling, or flaking either on your nipple or breast
- Bloody discharge from your nipple
- A nipple discharge other than breast milk.
It is essential not only for women but for men to pay attention to any of these changes. Everybody should know what the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer are. Although it is more common in women than men, male breast cancer is a reality, and men should also be aware of it.
What types of breast cancer are there?
Several types of breast cancer exist, but to simplify things for patients, physicians present them as invasive and non-invasive.
Of course, the staging of breast cancer has several items for the staging per se. Nonetheless, there will be more information on this specific topic later.
For now, the non-invasive type is the one that receives the name “in situ.” Invasive breast cancer is the one that migrates from its original tissue like breast ducts or glands to other parts of the breast. On the other hand, the non-invasive type is the one that has not spread from the original tissue.
Most Common Types of Breast Cancer
Among the most common types of breast cancer, we can find the following:
- Ductal Carcinoma In Situ: This is the most common type of non-invasive cancer. It is a condition in which the cells that are in the ducts where the milk flows have become abnormal. Nonetheless, these cells have not migrated to the surrounding breast tissue.
- Lobular Carcinoma In Situ: This is a type of cancer in which the cells within the glands that produce milk become abnormal. These glands are at the end of the breast ducts. Like ductal carcinoma in situ, these cells have not migrated to surrounding tissues.
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: This is the most common type of breast cancer, per se. It begins in the milk ducts within the breast and then migrates to nearby tissue in the breast. Once it gets out of the milk ducts tissue, it can migrate and invade lymph nodes and then nearby organs.
- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: It is like the invasive ductal carcinoma but within the lobules. The glands that produce milk within the breast. These cells migrate from the lobules and then invade other tissues from the breast and the body.
Other Types of Breast Cancer
Other types are not so common, in which we can find the following:
- Angiosarcoma: This is a type of cancer in which the blood vessels or lymph vessels of the breast are affected. The cells of the vessels become abnormal, affecting the tissues on the breast.
- Phyllodes Tumor: This is a very rare type of cancer that grows on the breast’s connective tissue. For example, collagen and fibrous tissue give the breast their size and shape and hold other structures together. Most of these tumefactions are harmless, but some of them may be cancerous.
- Paget disease of the nipple: This is a type of breast cancer that begins in the ducts of the nipple. It is a disease that progressively starts to affect the skin and the areola that surrounds this nipple.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer: This type of cancer is very particular, as it is infrequent but very aggressive as well. Around 5% or less of all breast cancer cases are due to this condition. Inflammatory breast cancer has its name directly from how it attacks the breast. Breast cancer cells begin to grow rapidly and block the lymph nodes around the breasts. This will cause the lymph nodes not correctly to drain, causing the breast to become swell. Asides from becoming larger, it can look red and feel warmer. These types of breasts may appear pitted and thick. The skin may not feel normal, and it can look like an orange peel; these are dense breasts. The orange peel skin is a warning sign, and you should call a doctor immediately if this is happening to you.
What are the stages of Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer has five different stages that will tell how large the tumor is and its spread. The staging is a fundamental tool for all physicians when making a cancer diagnosis. The stages of breast cancer will go from 0 to 4. Stage 0 refers to non-invasive carcinoma, while stages from 1 to 4 refer to invasive cancer.
To realize the staging of breast cancer, doctors should be aware of the following items:
- The size of the tumor
- The type of cancer, if it is invasive or non-invasive
- If there is an affection of lymph nodes
- If cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs
Stage 0 of breast cancer is the ductal or lobular carcinoma in situ. It is a type of cancer that stays within one specific location. After this, all of the stages refer to invasive cancer. However, some of them may be mild, and others may be more severe. Stage 1 or 2 may refer to a tumor no larger than 5 cm, or it can be found 1 to 3 lymph nodes within the armpit. It is important to know that there can be mixes of this as cancer can be unpredictable. Some breast cancer patients may have a very small tumor, but it has widely spread.
On the other hand, it can be a large tumor but without spreading. Advanced breast cancer mainly refers to stages 3 and 4. In stage 4, the tumors can be of any size, and the cancer cells may have spread to nearby and distant lymph nodes. Also, in this stage, there can be the affection of distant organs as well; this is what we commonly know as metastatic breast cancer.
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How can breast cancer be diagnosed?
Breast cancer diagnosis begins in the clinical check with the physician. It will check both of the breasts and lymph nodes in the armpit. This will allow him to feel any lump or abnormality that the patient may have. After this, the physician may require some of the following exams:
- Mammogram: This is fundamentally an X-Ray of the breast. This is one of the most common imaging studies for breast cancer screening. Women should have a mammogram periodically and visit a doctor for preventive screening.
- Breast Ultrasound: Although the mammogram is a useful study, certain things cannot be seen. For example, it can help the doctor determine if a new breast lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst.
- Biopsy: This type of study, which is basically removing a sample of breast cells for testing, is the only reliable method to diagnose breast cancer. During this procedure, the doctor uses a special needle with visual guidance. The guidance can be through X-Ray or another imaging test like Ultrasound. The doctor retrieves a small piece of tissue and sends it to a laboratory to determine if the cells are cancerous.
- Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging: For this specific test, the patients receive an injection of dye. This will allow the contrast of the breast structures and make it easier to visualize for doctors. This test will create a picture with full details of the interior of the breast.
After this, several tests can help to stage cancer. For example, the oncology specialists will ask for blood tests and the presence of tumor markers. Within these markers, the doctor may ask for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2.
What are the treatment options for breast cancer?
Several types of treatments for breast cancer exist. Basically, after staging and determining the type of cancer, the doctor will indicate your breast cancer treatment options. The doctor will also consider the overall health of the patient and its preferences. Among the options of cancer treatment, there are the following.
Breast Cancer Surgery
- Lumpectomy: It is a conservative type of surgery. The doctor removes the tumor and just a small portion of surrounding healthy tissue. It is a procedure that is recommended for patients with small tumors.
- Mastectomy: This is a type of surgery in which the surgeon removes all of the breast tissue. Most of these procedures remove from lobules and ducts to the skin, including the nipple and areola.
- Sentinel Node Biopsy: In order to determine if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the surgeon may consider removing some lymph nodes. The ones that the surgeon will remove are the ones that directly receive the drainage from the breast. If there are no findings suggesting breast cancer, there is no need to remove other nodes.
- Axillary Lymph Node Dissection: If there are breast cancer findings on the sentinel lymph nodes, the surgeon will consider removing other lymph nodes. This is basically for preventing the migration of cancer cells from those lymph nodes.
- Removing both breasts: This is a type of surgery for patients with a high risk of developing breast cancer in the other breast. It is a preventive procedure. However, most women with breast cancer in one breast will never develop cancer in the other breast.
It is a type of therapy that uses energy beams with high levels of radiation to kill cancerous cells. There are two types of radiation therapy, external beam radiation, and brachytherapy.
In the first one, a large machine aims energy beams at the body. In the second one, the doctors place radioactive material within the patient body.
This is an option for patients that undergo a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. It will help to prevent the spreading of cancer cells if there are any after surgery. This process may take from days to weeks, depending on the type of treatment and cancer.
This is a type of treatment in which the doctors use drugs. These drugs are sort of aggressive as they are set to destroy fast-growing cells, for example, cancer cells. It is a type of treatment that may work if cancer has a high risk of returning or spreading to another part of the body. It is also used on patients whose cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. This is mainly to try to control the disease’s progression and, if possible, to reverse it.
Breast cancer can be especially sensitive to hormones. This is mainly because certain types of breast cancer use hormones for growth. These are the Estrogen Receptor-Positive and Progesterone Receptor Positive cancers.
For these types of cancer, hormone therapy can be used before or after the surgery or if it has already spread. This therapy especially helps to decrease the chance of returning, or it can control and shrink cancer.
Among the treatments in this therapy, we can find the following.
- Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators: These are medications that will block hormones from attaching to cancer cells and allow them to grow.
- Aromatase Inhibitors: These are medications that will help the body to stop making estrogen after menopause.
It is a type of treatment that focuses on specific abnormalities of the cancer cells. It is designed to attack specific proteins within the cells. If a cell produces too much of it, the therapy will focus on that cell, sparing the healthy ones. For example, in breast cancer, the cancer cells produce too much HER2. It is a protein that helps these cells to grow and survive. By targeting these cells, doctors seek to slow the growth of tumors and slow the disease.
Can breast cancer be inherited?
As much as we would like to tell you no, the answer is yes. Breast cancer can be inherited, but how does that work?
Several studies reveal that around 10% of breast cancers directly correlate to gene mutations in the family. There are a couple of gene mutations that may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. These are the BRCA1 and BRCA2, but they not only increase the risk for breast cancer but for ovarian cancer as well.
Patients with a familial history of breast cancer or other types of cancer should consider genetic testing. This will help them to identify if any abnormalities are running within their genes.
Do you are at risk of having breast cancer?
This is a Breast Cancer Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for this disease. Therefore, the tool will tell anybody who uses it their likelihood of having breast cancer symptoms or a high-risk for developing it. Using this tool is free and would only take a few minutes.