Definition of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can be defined as a cancerous growth that inhabits the tissues in the breast. In this type of cancer, the cells in the breast region grow abnormally and in an uncontrolled way. Though breast cancer is mostly found in women, in rare cases it is to be seen in men also. In the U.S. alone one out of every eight women suffers from this disease.
Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women and the second most common cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. While the majority of new breast cancers are diagnosed as a result of an abnormality seen on a mammogram, a lump or change in consistency of the breast tissue can also be a warning sign of the disease. Heightened awareness of breast cancer risk in the past decades has led to an increase in the number of women undergoing mammography for screening, leading to detection of cancers in earlier stages and a resultant improvement in survival rates. Still, breast cancer is the most common cause of death in women between the ages of 45 and 55. Although breast cancer in women is a common form of cancer, male breast cancer does occur and accounts for about 1% of all cancer deaths in men.
Research has yielded much information about the causes of breast cancers, and it is now believed that genetic and/or hormonal factors are the primary risk factors for breast cancer. Staging systems have been developed to allow doctors to characterize the extent to which a particular cancer has spread and to make decisions concerning treatment options. Breast cancer treatment depends upon many factors, including the type of cancer and the extent to which it has spread. Treatment options for breast cancer may involve surgery (removal of the cancer alone or, in some cases, mastectomy), radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
There are several symptoms of breast cancer and more women need to be aware of these so that they can make an early diagnosis. Some of the symptoms of breast cancer are as follows:
- Increasing swellings or lumps seen in the breast or in the armpit are a symptom. Though this may also be due to hormonal changes, it might be better to get a check up done.
- Changes in the size and shape of the mature breast, especially if it is prominently noticed in one breast may be a concerning symptom.
- Fluid, not milk leakages from one nipple, especially in older women is a cause of concern.
- Noticeable changes occurring in the size and shape of the nipple or not easily returning to its normal shape can be a symptom of breast cancer too.
Symptoms can be caused by cancer or by a number of less serious conditions. Early diagnosis is especially important for breast cancer because the disease responds best to treatment before it has spread. The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the better a woman's chance for complete recovery.
Types of Breast Cancer
There are primarily two types of breast cancer to be found in most women. These types of breast cancer are named after the parts of the breast in which they start. They are:
- Ductal carcinoma breast cancer- starts in the cells which line the breast's ducts, beneath the nipple and areola. The ducts supply milk to the nipple. Between 85% and 90% of all breast cancers are ductal. If the cancer is DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), it is well contained, not invasive, and can be very successfully treated. Usually removed during a lumpectomy, if the tumor margins are clear of cancer, follow-up treatment may include radiation. If ductal cancer has broken into nearby breast tissue (invasive cancer) then a mastectomy may be needed, and your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy.
- Lobular carcinoma breast cancer - begins in the lobes, or glands which produce milk in the breast. The lobes are located deeper inside the breast, under the ducts. About 8% of breast cancers are lobular. If the cancer is LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ) that means the cancer is limited within the lobe and has not spread. It may be removed during a lumpectomy, if the tumor margins are clear of cancer, follow-up treatment may include radiation. If lobular cancer has spread into nearby breast tissue (invasive cancer) then a mastectomy may be needed, and your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy.
One of the rarest forms of breast cancer is named for its appearance.
- Inflammatory breast cancer - is the least common, but most aggressive of breast cancers, taking the form of sheets or nests, instead of lumps. It can start in the soft tissues of the breast, just under the skin, or it can appear in the skin. Unlike ductal and lobular cancers, it is treated first with chemotherapy and then with surgery. When caught early, inflammatory breast cancer can be a manageable disease, and survival rates are increasing.
Least common is a cancer of the nipple, named for Sir James Paget, who first noticed the relationship between changes in the nipple and the underlying breast cancer
- Paget's disease of the nipple/areola often looks like a skin rash, or rough skin. It resembles eczema, and can be itchy. The itching and scabs (if scratched) are signs that cancer may be under the surface of the skin, and is breaking through. Paget’s is usually treated with a mastectomy, because the cancer has by then invaded the nipple, areola, and the milk ducts.
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