Breast cells grow and divide out of control, forming a lump of tissue known as tumor, this is how breast cancer forms.
Nearly 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer over their lifetime. If it’s found at an early stage, there is a good possibility of recovery.
Women must thus periodically check their breasts for changes and always get any changes examined by a doctor.
Blood and lymph vessels are two ways for breast cancer to spread outside the breast. Breast cancer is said to have metastasized when it spreads to other bodily regions.
Despite the fact that breast cancer can occur at any age, it is often diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50.
There are three main parts of a breast: connective tissue, ducts, and lobules. The glands that generate milk are called lobules.
Milk travels through tubes called ducts to the nipple. The connective tissue, which is made up of fatty and fibrous tissue, envelops and holds everything in place.
Different parts of the breast might give rise to breast cancer. The majority of breast cancers start in the ducts or lobules.
Breast cancer in males
Although rare, males can also develop breast cancer, but women account for the vast majority of cases.
In the United States, about 1 out of 100 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer is found in a man. The most common types of breast cancer in men match those in women.
Causes of Breast Cancer
It is unclear exactly what causes breast cancer. However, some factors have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence.
- Exposure to radiation: Breast cancer is more likely to develop in those who have previously undergone radiation therapy, especially to the head, neck, or chest.
- Tobacco: Several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, have been linked to tobacco use.
- Alcohol: According to research, drinking alcohol may make you more likely to get some types of breast cancer.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy: Breast cancer diagnoses are more likely in those who use hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
- Sex: Breast cancer is far more common in women than in males.
- Genetics or family history: You have a higher chance of getting the disease at some time in your life if your parents, siblings, children, or other close relatives have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Age: Your risk of breast cancer rises if you are 55 or older.
- Never been pregnant: Compared to women who have had one or more pregnancies, women who have never been pregnant have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
- Having your first kid at a later age: Breast cancer risk may be higher for women who have their first child after turning 35.
- Starting your menstruation earlier in life: Your chance of developing breast cancer rises if you start menstruating before age 12.
- Beginning menopause at an older age: You are more prone to get breast cancer if you entered menopause late in life.
Signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer
- Breast that has changed in size, shape, or appearance.
- Skin changes over the breast, such as dimpling.
- A breast thickening or lump that feels different from the surrounding tissue.
- A newly inverted nipple.
- A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from your nipple.
- A marble-like hardened area under your skin.
- Over your breast, there may be redness or pitting similar to orange skin.
- The pigmented region of skin surrounding the nipple (areola), or breast skin begins to peel, scale, crust, or flake.
Types of Breast Cancer
- Ductal carcinoma in situ: Ductal carcinoma in situ, also known as Stage 0 breast cancer, is viewed by some as precancerous because the cells haven’t moved past your milk ducts.
- Paget’s disease of the breast: The skin around your nipple and areola is affected by this cancer.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ: A precancerous condition in which the lobules of your breast have abnormal cells. Although it isn’t a true cancer, this sign may point to a later risk of breast cancer.
- Triple negative breast cancer: Due to the absence of three of the indicators linked to other types of breast cancer, this type of breast cancer is known as triple negative. Prognosis and treatment are problematic as a result.
- Infiltrating (invasive) lobular carcinoma: Breast lobules are the origin of this cancer, spreading to the surrounding breast tissue.
- Infiltrating (invasive) ductal carcinoma: Beginning in the milk ducts of your breast, this cancer breaks through the duct wall and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue.
- Inflammatory breast cancer: This type of cancer is rare and severe, and it looks like an infection. Redness, swelling, pitting, and dimpling of the breast skin are typical symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer. It is caused by obstructive cancer cells in the lymph vessels under the skin.
Stages of Breast Cancer
Stage 0: This means it hasn’t broken out of your breast ducts. The illness is non-invasive.
Stage 1: Cancer cells have spread to surrounding breast tissue.
Stage 2: At this stage, tumors may or may not affect the nearby lymph nodes and range in size from 2 to 5 cm.
Stage 3: The cancer has already spread past its origin at this time. It could have spread to neighboring lymph nodes and tissue, but it hasn’t reached distant organs.
Breast cancer at stage 3 is typically referred to as “locally advanced.”
Stage 4: The cancer has spread to parts of your body other than your breast, such your liver, lungs, bones, or brain.
Metastatic breast cancer is another name for stage 4 breast cancer.
HER2-positive Breast Cancer
Breast cancer that tests positive for the protein human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) can be classified as HER2-positive breast cancer. This protein stimulates cancer cell growth.
One out of every five breast tumors has extra copies of the gene that produces the HER2 protein. Breast cancers that are HER2-positive are more aggressive than other kinds of breast cancer.
Testing for HER2-positive Breast Cancer
Since the results have a substantial influence on treatment recommendations and decisions, experts advise testing for the presence of HER2 in every case of invasive breast cancer. Unless as part of a clinical trial, HER2 testing is not typically done for ductal carcinoma in situ.
Breast cancer cells should always be retested for HER2 as well as for hormone receptor status as these might change after the first diagnosis. This is extremely crucial if breast cancer recurs or spreads.
Treatment for HER2-positive Breast Cancer
The most effective treatments are those that target HER2 directly. Because of the efficacy of these treatments, the prognosis for HER2-positive breast cancer is really quite good.
Some regular chemotherapy medicines, which do not particularly target the HER2 protein, can also be beneficial in treating HER2 positive breast cancers.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Surgery is generally the first type of treatment you’ll have, followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or, in certain situations, hormone or targeted therapies.
Breast Cancer Prevention
- Maintain healthy weight: It’s crucial to make an effort to reach and maintain a healthy weight if you’ve experienced menopause. This is due to the fact that excess weight or obesity increases oestrogen production, which raises the risk of breast cancer.
- Don’t consume alcohol: If you prefer to drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink each day.
- Consume little saturated fat.
- Regular exercise: According to research, regular exercise can cut your risk of breast cancer by almost a third.
You may learn more about the normal feel and appearance of your breasts by performing a breast self-exam for breast awareness. You should let your doctor know if you detect any changes in your breasts that look abnormal or if one breast differs from the other.
Breast cancer is one of the numerous conditions that can change your breasts.
Although the breast self-exam approach isn’t usually a reliable way to identify breast cancer, many women have testified that the first symptom of their breast cancer was a new breast lump found by them. As a response, doctors recommend becoming familiar with your breasts’ normal consistency.
How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam
Your chances of discovering breast cancer before it spreads can be improved by using breast self-exam as part of an early detection strategy. The John Hopkins Medical Centre advises adult women of all ages to take a breast self-exam at least once a month. It may not be reliable, but according to records, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers were first discovered by women who performed breast self-exams.
The information provided below shows you how to perform a breast self-exam.
1. Infront of Mirror
With your arms at your sides, visually examine your breasts. Put your arms in the air as high as you can. Then, check for any nipple changes, skin swelling or dimples, or changes in the contour.
Next, place your palms on your hips and firmly press to flex your chest muscles. Look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, especially on one side. Few women’s breasts match evenly on the left and right, so focus on the other changes.
2. Lying Down
Lying down requires a level or flat surface, such as a bed. As you’re lying down, the breast tissue spreads out, making it thinner and easier to feel.
Your right shoulder should be supported by a cushion; also, place your right arm behind your head.
Move your left hand’s finger pads lightly over your right breast, covering the whole breast region and armpit.
After that, apply light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple and check for lumps and discharge.
Follow the same procedure for your left breast.
3. In the Shower
With the pads or flats of your 3 middle fingers, check the entire breast and armpit by pressing down with light, medium, and firm pressure. Check for any lump, thickening, hardened knot, or other breast changes.
5 Tips for Breast Self-Exam
- Use the pads, not the tips of your fingers.
- If you can’t feel your finger pads, use another part of the hand that is more sensitive (e.g., the palm or the back of your fingers).
- Employ different pressure levels (light, medium, and firm pressure).
- Take your time.
- Follow a pattern.
Each month throughout your menstrual cycle, your hormone levels fluctuate, which affects the breast tissue. As your period starts, swelling starts to go down. The week after the last day of your menstruation is typically the best time to do a breast self-exam.
You shouldn’t become alarmed if you find a change or lump in your breast, because 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. Given that some of these changes are normal and happen at different times during menstrual cycles, many women discover lumps or changes in their breasts in these instances.
In different positions, breasts frequently feel different. For instance, a firm ridge along the bottom of each breast is common.
Furthermore, as you get older, your breasts will change in appearance and feel.
For additional peace of mind, contact your doctor if you have concerns.
When to Book an Appointment with Your Doctor
Refer to the “signs and symptoms of breast cancer” above and report to your doctor if any of the signs and symptoms are discovered.
NB: If you find a lump or other change in your breast, schedule a visit with your doctor immediately, even if your most recent mammography found nothing worrisome.
(References: Cleveland Clinic, CDC, American Cancer Society, NHS, Mayo Clinic, NBCF)