Understanding Breast Cancer

5 Sep

The medical terminology for breast cancer is breast carcinoma and this disease affects one in eight women at some point during their life. Breast cancer has the second-highest death rate in the United States for women, with lung cancer ranking at number one.

While no-one has been able to determine why some women get the disease and others don’t, there are certain risk factors that come into play. We’ve read about them in one place or another, and it’s extremely important to know what they are. They include:

  • Your age – as you get older your chances increase
  • Genes – if your mother had breast or ovarian cancer your risks are higher
  • Early periods – starting your period before the age of 12
  • Late menopause – going through this after the age of 55

Additional things that can put you at risk include being overweight, using birth control pills, drinking alcohol, using hormone replacement therapies, and not having a child until after the age of 35.

What is Breast Cancer?

woman in bra

While many websites and blogs are dedicated to raising funds and awareness of breast cancer, it is important to understand what breast cancer is. This disease affects millions of people worldwide and it affects both men and women.

Breast cancer begins in the cells of the breast and becomes a malignant tumor. While the cancer does start in the breast cells it can then invade other areas of the body. This process is known as metastasizing.

The female breast consists of milk-producing glands known as lobules, ducts which carry the milk and stroma. Stroma is made up of fatty tissue and connective tissue which surrounds the lobules, ducts, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels.

Types Of Breast Cancer

While everyone has heard of breast cancer what you may not be aware of is that there are different kinds of breast cancer. Let’s explore them briefly.

The most common kind of breast cancer is the one that starts in your cells which line your milk ducts. This type of cancer is known as Ductal carcinoma.

Lobular carcinoma is the type that begins in the lobes of the breast, which is the area responsible for making milk. In other words, where your milk glands are.

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Lymph Nodes and Lymphatic System and Breast Cancer

It is the lymphatic system which can cause the cancer to spread. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped cells that make up the immune system cells. These are connected by lymphatic vessels. These small vessels resemble veins and their job is to carry clear fluid, lymph, away from the breast.

The majority of lymphatic vessels in the breast connect to lymph nodes which are in a woman’s armpit. Lymph nodes are also found inside the chest and just above or below the collarbone.

If the breast cancer has gotten into any of the lymph nodes, this could mean that the cancer is now in a woman’s bloodstream. This process is how the breast cancer could possibly spread to other parts of the body.

What is Fibrosis?

Fibrosis is the development of scars in the tissue while cysts are small sacs filled with fluid. Most women will notice these symptoms as they produce swollen breasts, small lumps and these conditions can be painful and tender. Plus, these symptoms may increase in severity just before a woman has her menstrual period.

It is important for women to understand what breast cancer is and what signs to look for. While all women will want to get any lumps or swelling checked out, no-one should panic. There are many causes for changes in the breast and breast cancer is only one of them. Please use precaution. Perform proper research and you will reap the benefits.

Early Detection of Cancer is Crucial

This is why early detection is so important. If the cancer is found before it spreads into the lymph nodes the chances of recovery are higher and the treatment will work more effectively.

Not all lumps in the breast are malignant and most are actually benign. Some doctors do like to have any type of lump removed and looked at more closely, especially if your family history dictates this.

Many lumps in the breast turn out to have other causes such as fibrosis and cysts. These are changes which occur in the breast tissue as a woman’s age and health changes.

girl road sky thinking

Getting Screened For Breast Cancer

It is possible to get screened for breast cancer and it is recommended that you do so. The most usual way is for a woman to have a mammogram and this is the easiest way for breast cancer to be detected. Depending upon your risk factors you should start having regular mammograms done anywhere from the age of 40 and up. Most women normally wait until the age of 50 and then get screened every two years.

Your doctor can do a quick exam in their office and check for lumps as well. Plus, you should also learn how to do a self-breast exam at home. It is normally best to do this in the shower.

Other tests that are sometimes used include performing a breast ultrasound or sometimes an MRI may be required. This is a more detailed scan and the last test is usually a biopsy where tissue or fluid is removed and then tested.

Treatment For Breast Cancer

When it comes to treatment for breast cancer you have several choices including:

  • Surgery
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Radiation treatment
  • Biologic therapy

The above procedures are all specialized and performed by different surgeons. So you can easily end up seeing more than one type of surgeon while being treated. Your doctor can help you decide which course of treatment is best for you. He or she will discuss the procedures along with possible side effects.

Do your due diligence. Get regular check-ups. Perform self-breast exams. Together, we can prevent breast cancer and help to find a cure.