Breast cancer is a disease that forms in the cells and tissues of the breasts. While breast cancer can occur in both men and women, it is more prevalent in women.
In the United States, breast cancer has the second-highest death rate in women. Moreover, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in the U.S. after skin cancer.
However, this does not mean that survival rates are low. In recent years, the increased breast cancer research and awareness campaigns that have spurred early detection programs have increased global breast cancer survival rates. This means that the rate of deaths associated with this cancer is declining, inspiring hope for many. The key to this movement? Early detection and raising awareness of breast cancer.
To continue the awareness campaigns that have saved millions of women worldwide, we at breastenlargement.name are examining the symptoms, causes, and treatment of breast cancer. We will also show how you can self-examine your breasts to check for breast cancer at home today.
The Types of Breast Cancer
It is essential to remember that there are many types of breast cancers and depending on the cells affected, they will have different symptoms and treatment.
Women most commonly develop breast cancers that are carcinomas, meaning the tumors start in the epithelial cells lining the tissues and organs in the body, not just the breasts. However, when carcinomas manifest inside the breasts, they are specialized carcinomas, called adenocarcinoma. These types of breast cancers start in the cells of breasts’ milk ducts or milk-producing glands—also known as lobules.
Ductal Carcinoma vs. Invasive Breast Cancer
Ductal carcinoma, also known as in situ breast cancer and intraductal carcinoma, is essentially a non-invasive breast cancer, or in some cases, a pre-invasive breast cancer. Ductal carcinoma is also the most common type of breast cancer. This type of cancer is considered non-invasive as it begins in the lining of the milk ducts, which carries milk from the lobules of the breast to the nipples, and has not yet reached the breast tissue.
On the other hand, invasive breast cancer entails any type of breast cancer that begins in the lobules but has spread to the breasts’ surrounding tissue. The most common types of invasive breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma, with the former making up 70% to 80% of all breast cancers.
From the various types of invasive breast cancers, there are two that, while uncommon, are more aggressive and are thus more challenging to treat. Triple-negative breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer type that progresses quickly through the tissues and accounts for approximately 15% of all breast cancers. Inflammatory breast cancer is another rare invasive breast cancer type that accounts for 1% to 5% of all breast cancers.
While some symptoms differ, there is a general list of symptoms to watch out for in regards to breast cancer.
Some symptoms and signs of breast cancer may include:
- A lump or thickening of breast tissue that, upon self-examination, feels different from the surrounding tissue
- A sudden change in breast size, shape, or condition
- The skin over or surrounding the breast changes (For example, you notice dimpling in the breasts or inflamed, red skin)
- The pigmented area surrounding the nipple begins to peel, crust, or flake
- Changes in the nipple, like a sudden transition to an inverted nipple
If you notice any of these symptoms or signs, please make an appointment with your doctor for a proper evaluation and diagnosis. Even if you had a recent mammogram done, it is best to immediately address any of these breast changes.
Cancer occurs when cells grow abnormally. This same research-based conclusion is found in breast cancer. The cells of breast cancer patients divide faster than healthy cells, leading to an accumulation of cells or a “lump” or “mass.” These cancerous cells may then spread to the lymph nodes in the breasts or other parts of the body.
According to research, most breast cancers start with the cells in the milk ducts of the breasts or the glandular tissue, also known as lobules.
As with most cancers, researchers cannot pinpoint the exact causes of breast cancer in women. While it is fair to assume a combination of one’s lifestyle and environmental factors contribute to one’s risk of getting breast cancer, it is uncertain how these risk factors specifically develop cancerous cells. Regardless, researchers have confirmed that one’s genetic makeup and environment are valuable factors to consider when discussing cancer causes.
Researchers have discovered that approximately 5% to 10% of breast cancers correlate to inherited gene mutations. This means one’s family history of breast cancer or other cancers increase one’s likelihood of inherited breast cancer as the gene mutations have been passed down. The most common types of inherited gene mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been recorded to increase one’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
If you have or suspect to have a strong family history of cancers, check with your doctor to get a blood test done. The blood test will help detect any concerning gene mutations, such as BRCA. Additionally, you can request a genetic specialist referral to get a more detailed review of your family gene history.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
There are several risk factors that, according to research, make one more likely to develop breast cancer. However, having any of these factors does not necessarily mean you will get breast cancer. In fact, many women who developed breast cancer did not check off any of the following common risk factors.
Common breast cancer risk factors include:
- Having a history of breast conditions: A breast biopsy that led to the finding of any abnormalities or atypical breast hyperplasia can increase one’s risk of breast cancer.
- Family history of breast cancer: As previously stated, one’s family history of breast cancer or other cancers increases one’s chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure: One’s risk of developing breast cancer increases if they received radiation treatment as a child or young adult.
- Obesity: Obesity can lead to many diseases and medical conditions, including breast cancer.
- Delayed menopause: If one begins menopause at an older age—an age past the expectant age for developing menopause—they have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.
- Never being pregnant: Surprisingly enough, women who have never been pregnant face a greater risk of developing breast cancer than those who have given birth one or more times. Additionally, women who have their first child after 30 also have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Undergoing postmenopausal hormone therapy: If you take the hormone therapy medications that use estrogen and progesterone to treat menopause symptoms, you may face an increased risk of breast cancer. However, research has shown that the risk decreases when one stops taking these hormone-focused medications.
Self-Exam for Breast Awareness
To watch out for any breast cancer symptoms, you must first become familiar with your breasts, developing breast awareness. By becoming aware of your breasts’ size, shape, and appearance, you will be able to quickly detect any new changes, including lumps or any of the atypical signs outlined previously as symptoms of breast cancer.
While breast awareness cannot prevent breast cancer, it is an essential first step. Breast awareness allows you to understand the typical changes your breasts undergo daily, so if any unusual signs or symptoms appear, you can quickly identify them and point them out to your doctor.
How to Do a Breast Self-Exam
There are four positions to cover to complete a thorough breast self-exam. Once you develop a self-exam routine, you will find the steps more manageable and faster to complete, but for the first few times, take your time to understand your breasts’ shape and appearance during these exercises.
Look at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight. If you’d like, you can place your hands on your hips. Check that your breasts are their usual shape, colour, and size. Ensure that the skin of your breasts does not contain any redness, swelling, or dimpling. Additionally, make sure that your nipple has not changed position or become inverted. To ensure you are not missing any signs of breast cancer, you can go through the list of symptoms and signs stated above and check them off through the steps.
With your hands interlaced straight above your head, check for the same symptoms and signs of breast cancer. While in this stretched position you can also ensure no fluid is escaping your nipples. The type of fluid escaping may include a milky, watery, or yellow substance or blood.
In this laying down position, your arm should be behind your head so that you would be checking your right breast with your left hand and your left breast with your right hand. Examine each breast with two to three fingers, making sure the fingers are flat and pressed together. In a circular motion and with a firm push, check your entire breasts. This includes the muscles surrounding the breasts as the lymph nodes go past the breasts and up to the collarbone and armpit.
As a result, this self-exam should cover the entire breast area, from the collarbone to the top of the abdomen and back to the armpit. To make sure you cover the whole area, develop a pattern. Most women find it most comfortable to follow a vertical approach, moving along the breast area in rows to ensure each part is covered. Besides covering the breast’s full scope, make sure to use firm pressure for deep tissue and lighter pressure for the skin and muscles.
Lastly, check your breasts when you are sitting or standing up, following the same steps outlined in Position 3. Many women find it convenient to do this self-exam in the shower as they wash their bodies.
Breast Cancer Treatment
If you detect a lump or symptoms of breast cancer, consult your doctor. They will request several tests to ensure the breast cancer diagnosis is correct and to examine the cells or tissues affected. These diagnostic tests may include a mammogram, a breast ultrasound, a core needle biopsy, a breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and blood tests.
Once the type of breast cancer is confirmed and the cancer stage calculated, a breast cancer specialist will recommend a treatment plan during your consultation.
There are various types of breast cancer treatment. However, doctors typically recommend surgery to remove the cancerous cells and reduce the risk of a resurgence of cancer in other parts of the body. Many women also undergo chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy after surgery.
As surgery is a common treatment for breast cancer and includes different procedures, we’ll go over the most common breast cancer surgeries.
This procedure entails the removal of the cancerous cells or tissues while keeping the breast intact. For this reason, surgeons often refer to this procedure as the “breast-conserving surgery” or, in technical terms, the wide local excision. During a lumpectomy, a surgeon removes the tumor as well as the surrounding healthy tissue to ensure the eradication of cancerous cells.
While this procedure is ideal for removing smaller tumors, those with larger affected areas can undergo chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, making it easier to remove it completely with lumpectomy.
This operation removes the tumor alongside your entire breast tissue. This means the procedure will remove the whole breast. However, new surgical techniques and methods are making it possible to spare skin and nipples in selected cases.
Axillary Lymph Node Dissection
This procedure entails the removal of your lymph nodes in your armpit. However, before this procedure, your surgeon will consult with you on removing the lymph nodes closest to your breasts that would be the first to receive a spreading breast cancer tumor. If the procedure detects cancer in these lymph nodes, then the surgeon will schedule an axillary lymph node dissection for you to remove the rest of the lymph nodes.
We hope this information on breast cancer and the symptoms, causes, and treatment of breast cancer will be useful for you. Raising awareness of breast cancer and early prevention efforts like self-examination are crucial in fighting breast cancer.
This disease has affected many women worldwide. As such, as a community of empowered women working to better our lives and self-value, we should be aware of the symptoms and treatment of breast cancer to save ourselves and other women.