Breast Cancer 101: Everything You Need to Know About This Condition

Breast cancer
Note:
The information in this article is not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All images and text presented are for general information purposes only. 

Breast cancer is a serious condition that affects most individuals worldwide. The mortality rate or the death rate due to the condition sums to nearly lakhs. Breast cancer screening guidelines are always updating as per the recent scientific data. For instance, as per recent estimates, there can be nearly 609,820 deaths due to this cancer. As the awareness around such preventable cancer types increases, we must take active steps to prevent it.   

Cancer is a chronic disease that grows uncontrollably in the body. One of the most common cancer types, breast cancer, is known to widely prevail in the country. Recording nearly 2,40,000 cases of this cancer, the US is one of the countries stuck in its grip.   

The following article will examine the condition and provide insight into the disease, including preventative steps and frequently asked questions. So, let us begin!   

What Is Breast Cancer?

What Is Breast Cancer?

The growth of cancerous cells within the breast/s gives rise to breast cancer. The condition can be of various types, which the following section will discuss. The abnormal cells that grow unchecked in the breast lead to the development of tumors that can spread to different parts of the body, even becoming fatal.   

The beginning of breast cancer is known to be in the lobules that can produce milk or the milk-producing ducts. The in situ form of breast cancer that stays within the organ is not concerning as it cannot cause severe harm.   

Breast cancer treatment depends on several factors, which determine the kind of treatment that will follow. For example, in severe cases of cancer, radiation therapy is found to be more effective than chemotherapy, which is simply relying on drugs and other chemotherapeutic agents for cure.   

Types Of Breast Cancer

The type of cancer depends on the area where the cancer cells originate. These can be of the following two types:   

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: The beginning of the cancer cells in the ducts, following their growth outside them to other parts of the breast tissue. These invasive cancer cells can also metastasize to other body parts. This is when the condition becomes tough to handle as it has spread to different parts, which can act very differently to the treatment procedures.   
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: When cancer cells begin in the lobules and spread to other parts of the breast tissue, it leads to this type. In this type, the cancer cells can also spread to the breast tissues that are close by. This is when the invasive cells can spread to the nearby breast tissues. Later stages of the cancer can lead to metastasis.   
  • Paget’s disease of the breast: This occurs in both men and women, more frequently in the latter. Not very common, however, this type of breast cancer is also significant in prevalence. Somewhere between skin and breast cancer, this one is quite serious. It starts in the skin of the nipple or areola, with some people even having more than one tumor inside the same breast. This is worth mentioning because of its co-occurrence with breast cancer cases.   
  • Triple-negative breast cancer: This is another type of breast cancer that does not have any of the common receptors that are common in breast cancers. One of the receptors is for HER2, another is for the female hormone progesterone, and the other is for estrogen. Having even one of the receptors helps in treating the cancer more effectively. These are like locks for which the doctors may have the keys. Being an effective option, chemotherapy still helps in such cases of triple-negative breast cancer.   

How Is It Caused?

How Is It Caused?

The cause of breast cancer is not fully known. However, what is known is that breast cancer can be due to either of the two theories:   

  1. One popular belief regarding this co-occurrence is that the cancer cells that originate within the breast travel through the milk ducts to the nipple or areola.   
  1. Paget’s disease can also occur without the development of breast cancer. This is another theory that most research focuses on. It goes as – the cells in the nipple or areola become cancerous. This theory finds support in Paget disease cases where the patient does not have tumor/s in their breast.  

What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?

What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?

Some benign skin conditions (eczema, dermatitis) have signs that can resemble breast cancer symptoms and lead to confusion. Here are the symptoms of breast cancer:   

  • Itching, redness, or tingling in the areola or nipple  
  • Flattened nipple
  • Crusty, flaking, or thickened skin around or on the nipple
  • Bloody or yellowish discharge from the nipple
  • Thickening or lump in the breast that often does not cause pain
  • Change in the appearance of the breast, such as in size or shape
  • Pitting, dimpling, or redness of the breast skin.
  • Change in the appearance of the skin around the nipple or areola.
  • Headache or bone pain depending on the location of metastasis of the cancer cell

Risk Factors Of Breast Cancer

The list contains the common risk factors known to lead to breast cancer’s development. The risk factors of this condition are as follows:

  • Gender. Women are at a higher risk of developing the condition than men. Nearly 0.5-1% of diagnoses of breast cancer cases are in men.
  • Age. Older individuals are more likely to develop the condition than younger people. This can be due to the genetic and physiological changes an individual undergoes.
  • Obesity
  • Excess consumption of alcohol
  • Radiation exposure
  • Reproductive history, such as the beginning of menstrual periods and the age of first pregnancy (if applicable)
  • Tobacco use
  • Hormone therapy
  • Family history of breast cancer

Some risk factors are self-explanatory and have been left as they are.  

Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer

Diagnosing breast cancer starts with a self-examination that can tell you if there is an unusual lump or abnormality that shouldn’t be there.

The other methods of diagnosing the condition include:

  1. Mammogram: An X-ray of the breast. This test is a go-to diagnostic test for breast cancer. Detecting an abnormality during the screening can allow the doctor to recommend further tests to evaluate the abnormality.
  1. Breast exam: This is the basic examination that allows the doctor or yourself to check for any abnormal lumps or other abnormalities. The examination usually includes breast and lymph node examination.
  1. Breast ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to produce images of the structures deep within the body. This test helps differentiate between a solid mass in the breast or a fluid-filled cyst.
  1. Removing a breast sample and testing it: This test is known as a biopsy and is the only way to make a breast cancer diagnosis. The doctor can use a specialized needle that an X-ray guides. There may be other imaging tests too that guide the biopsy. This test helps determine the type of cells, grade of the cancer, and presence or absence of hormone receptors. All of these are crucial for treatment.
  1. Breast MRI: The MRI machine helps diagnose cancer as it helps visualize the condition. The test provides images of the breast’s interior that are received by injecting a dye that can help in clear visualization.
How does the diagnosis help? You may ask?

The tests help in knowing how much the cancer has progressed. This can help determine what kind of treatment will be best for you. The tests identified in the earlier section are all helpful in determining what stage the cancer has progressed to. However, the following tests also help in enhancing the diagnosis:

  • Bone scan
  • CT scan
  • PET scan

A suspected patient does not need to undergo all these tests. The doctor will choose the mandatory tests based on the doctor’s observation and specific circumstances, such as the severity or presence of symptoms you may be experiencing.

The breast cancer staging can range from 0 to IV. This is what they mean:

  • Stage 0 implies the cancer is still noninvasive and present only in one area, like the milk ducts.
  • Stage I is when cancer starts growing in the surrounding breast tissues. The cancer has not yet spread into the lymph nodes (which is stage IA) or stage IB, where the cancer has only minimally spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage II typically includes larger cancer cells or has spread to more lymph nodes.
  • Stage III is when breast cancer has become invasive. The cancer is now farther spread than stage II and has more lymph nodes with metastasis seen within local tissues and organs.
  • Stage IV is considered the incurable stage and is also known as advanced breast cancer. The cancer has now spread to several organs and other body parts.

The treatment options for each stage differ due to the different factors dividing these stages. For instance, the final stage of the cancer is when the treatment focuses on easing the symptoms more than curing it. The fourth stage is beyond treatment. The treatment usually focuses on improving the psychological and mental well-being of the patient. This is so their quality of life improves during this tough period.

Treatment Options For Breast Cancer

Treatment Options For Breast Cancer

Depending on the risk factors, the type of cancer, and the symptoms that the patient presents, the treatment options vary. However, here is a list of common and effective treatment options for information and improving my reader’s knowledge. Read on:

  • Surgical removal of breast tumor for instance, breast reconstruction surgery
  • Radiation therapy to reduce the recurrence risk in the surrounding areas
  • Medication therapy or chemotherapy, as it is popularly known. Medicines can include painkillers and neo-adjuvants (drugs that help shrink the size of larger cancer, administered before surgery.)
  • Radiotherapy also plays a crucial role in the treatment of breast cancer. Early-stage breast cancers can help prevent a woman from undergoing mastectomy. The risk of recurrence is also reduced with the help of radiation, even after performing a mastectomy.
  • Targeted therapy using trastuzumab helps in tackling the condition by directly attacking the HER-2/neu oncogene. There are other options in targeted therapy that help kill the cancer cells.

These treatment options help reduce the spread of the cancer cells and thus help control the cancer. Moreover, the importance of therapy is known in reducing the recurrence of this cancer.

Preventative Methods For Breast Cancer

Preventative Methods For Breast Cancer

“Prevention is better than cure” we’ve all heard this. However, this cannot be done for all conditions and diseases. There is always a possibility that we can reduce our risk of developing a condition. Breast cancer diet is another helpful lifestyle change that is usually recommended by a doctor. This list is curated with the same intention. Here’s how you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer:

  1. Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption: A study found that people with a drinking habit as low as 2 or 3 glasses every day have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight: Maintaining a healthy weight allows your body to better fight the cancer cells and helps the treatment to effectively show their effect.
  1. Exercising more often can help boost the energy necessary to fight cancer cells. Physical activity boosts heart health and fights the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Ask your healthcare professional about the activities you can carry out.
  1. Breastfeed: Weird? No, not according to science and some cultures! Breastfeeding can play an important role in preventing breast cancer, along with other chronic conditions.
  1. Avoid going for hormone therapy after menopause: Menopause is a sensitive period in an individual’s life due to the various hormonal changes that one undergoes. Combination hormone therapy uses progestin and estrogen, which can increase the risk of cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. Managing your symptoms using treatments that do not include hormones can be very helpful.

These tips and doctor’s recommendations can help you prevent breast cancer. However, you must also remember that other factors can elevate your risk.

Conclusion

In conclusion, breast cancer is a chronic condition that has been tormenting people for some time now. The American Cancer Society estimated that nearly 3,10,000 women (about half the population of Wyoming) will receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer in 2024.

The article addresses the common questions that health blogs like us can justify answering. Proper guidance and advice of a medical professional will always trump that of blogs and informational sites. Visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms in the article.

Know of any more treatment options? Let us know in the comments below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there a link between breast cancer and birth control pills?

Oral contraceptives or birth control pills can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. One theory is that the release of hormones elevates the risk of this cancer. However, the risk is quite low as soon as you stop using hormonal birth control.

Can a healthy diet help prevent breast cancer?

Generally, a healthy diet helps reduce the risk of certain types of cancers. In addition, there is also the role of other lifestyle changes that can improve the quality of life.

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