The causes of breast cancer are largely unknown, but what we do know is that one in every eight women develops breast cancer in the United States, making it the most common cancer type among American women. Women diagnosed with breast cancer are forced to face many fears including having to undergo surgery, possible death and a loss of body image and sexuality. The one thing that can help patients and their families come to terms with this disease and figure out what needs to be done next, is information. With complete information at hand, patients can discuss their treatment options with their doctors with full knowledge of what to expect and the possible risks associated with this disease.
Find out all you need to know about breast cancer, breast cancer types and possible causes of breast cancer, symptoms and available breast cancer treatments.
About Breast Cancer
What is breast cancer? It is a malignant tumor that originates in the cells of the breast. Breast cancers are classified under two broad categories: invasive and noninvasive. Invasive breast cancers spread to other parts of the breast from the lobule or milk duct. Noninvasive cancers, as called in situ, are localized and do not spread to other parts of the breast. Since they are limited to one area, they are more successfully cured.
Types of Breast Cancer
The three most common types of breast cancer are as follows:
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
This is the most common type of invasive breast cancer with an occurrence rate of 80%. It originates in the duct of the breast and then spreads outward to the surrounding tissue.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
This breast cancer type makes up 10% of all invasive breast cancer cases. It originates in the milk glands and then spreads to other parts of the breast.
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ
This is the most common noninvasive cancer type which has higher chances of being successfully cured since it is limited to one part of the breast.
Other breast cancer types such as mucinous carcinoma, mixed tumors, medullary carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, triple negative breast cancers, Paget’s disease of the nipple and adenoid cystic carcinoma are not as common as the three aforementioned cancer types.
Some breast cancer types such as papillary carcinoma, phyllodes tumor, angiosarcoma and tubular carcinoma are quite rare.
Breast Cancer Causes
Research has narrowed down some of the risk factors associated with the development of breast cancer even though the exact link between the presence of these factors and the growth of cancer cells is still unclear. Some of the risk factors cannot be modified, such as genes or age, while others can be influenced, such as alcohol use. The following is a list of identified breast cancer risk factors:
If a close relative (mother, sister) has breast cancer, the risk of developing breast cancer doubles. Generally, a family history of breast cancer increases the probability of breast cancer development.
Research suggests that the risk of breast cancer increases as women get older.
Being diagnosed with cancer in one breast or with a benign form of cancer, increases the risk of cancer growth in the other breast or the development of malignant breast cancer, respectively.
Research suggests that white women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancers. African-American women who suffer from breast cancer are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive cancer growth.
A higher risk of breast cancer exists in women whose menstruation cycle started before the age of 12, or who experienced menopause after the age of 55. Moreover, women who undergo combined hormone therapy after menopause have a greater risk of breast cancer development.
Dense breast tissue results in a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Research suggests that there is a link between being obese or overweight and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Women who have their first child after the age of 30 and those who do not have children are more susceptible to breast cancer.
Research suggests that alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer share a direct relationship. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the probability of breast cancer development.
Women who have used oral contraceptives in the last 10 years are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Note that regular exercise and breastfeeding for the first one and a half to two years lowers the probability of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer include a lump in the breast, breast or nipple pain, nipple redness, nipple discharge, a swelling on a part of the breast and dimpling (a depression in the skin of the breast, there may be more than one in some cases).
Conduct a regular self-examination and if you notice any of these symptoms consult your doctor immediately and share you concerns.
A more reliable and speedy method of cancer diagnosis is through screening mammography, which can diagnose breast cancers even before the body starts exhibiting the symptoms of breast cancer growth. The American Cancer Society suggests that women aged 40 years or older should get a screening mammogram and a clinical breast exam (CBE) every year. Women in their 20s and 30s should do a regular breast self exam (BSE) and have a clinical breast exam every three years.
However, those women who are at a high risk for breast cancer (due to family history, personal history or other risk factors) should opt for a mammogram and an MRI every year.
Breast Cancer Treatments
Numerous breast cancer treatments are available; however, the final treatment decision will depend on the stage of the cancer, the cancer type and the patient’s personal health history.
Breast conserving surgery
Only the cancerous portion of the breast is removed. This surgery is also known as partial mastectomy.
All the breast tissue is removed. In rare cases a radical mastectomy is performed in which the breast tissue, axillary lymph nodes and the chest wall muscle are removed. However, usually a modified radical mastectomy is performed in which the chest wall muscle is left intact while the breast tissue and axillary lymph nodes are removed.
Surgery is limited to removing the cancerous breast lump and the surrounding infected tissue. To reduce the chances of relapse, radiation therapy is usually administered after a lumpectomy.
High energy rays are used to eradicate cancer cells. External beam radiation involves demarcating the target area, after which an external beam from a machine is focused onto the infected area. This treatment is the most common radiation treatment. Patients are required to come five days a week for five to six weeks. Brachytherapy is another form of radiation therapy in which radioactive pellets or seeds are implanted into the breast right next to the cancerous region.
This treatment method makes use of strong medicines, administered orally or via injection, which travel through the blood stream to the cancerous region. There are three types of chemotherapy namely, adjuvant chemotherapy (post surgery), neoadjuvent chemotherapy (pre surgery), and advanced cancer chemotherapy (for cancers that have spread to different parts of the body).
Other breast cancer treatments include hormone therapy, targeted therapy and using medication that targets new tumor blood vessels.
While some risk factors can be modified to reduce the risk of breast cancer, such as exercise and alcohol consumption, others such as a family history of breast cancer cannot be changed. Women at a higher risk should consider the American Cancer Society’s detection methods mentioned above, so that the cancer can be diagnosed at its earliest stages where the chances of a successful treatment and cure are relatively high.