Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the breast cells. Breast cancer can affect both men and women, although it is more common in women. Breast cancer can start in different parts of the breast, such as the milk ducts, the lobules, or the tissue in between.
The exact cause of breast cancer is not known, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing the disease, such as age, family history, genetics, hormonal factors, and lifestyle factors.
Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm, changes in the size or shape of the breast, nipple discharge or inversion, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, and breast pain. However, some people with breast cancer may not have any symptoms at all.
Breast cancer is typically diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, imaging tests (such as mammography, ultrasound, or MRI), and biopsy (removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope). Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments, depending on the stage and characteristics of the cancer. Early detection and treatment can improve the chances of a good outcome.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer can have a variety of signs and symptoms. The most common signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:
- A lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm
- Changes in breast size or shape
- Nipple discharge or inversion
- Skin changes such as redness, scaliness, or dimpling
- Pain in the breast or nipple area
- Swelling in the breast or armpit
- A rash around or on the nipple
- A lump or swelling in the lymph nodes under the arm
It is important to note that not all breast lumps are cancerous and many breast changes are due to benign conditions. However, if you notice any of these signs or symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider for further evaluation and potential testing such as mammograms or biopsies. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer can improve outcomes and survival rates.
Types of breast cancer
There are several types of breast cancer, including:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): This is a non-invasive breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts of the breast.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC): This is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80% of all cases. IDC starts in the milk ducts of the breast and invades the surrounding breast tissue.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): This type of breast cancer starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast and can spread to the surrounding breast tissue.
- Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC): This is a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer that can cause the breast to become red, swollen, and warm to the touch.
- Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC): This type of breast cancer tests negative for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors, which makes it more difficult to treat.
- HER2-positive breast cancer: This type of breast cancer tests positive for a protein called HER2, which can make the cancer more aggressive.
- Male breast cancer: Although breast cancer is more common in women, it can also occur in men. Male breast cancer is rare and accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.
Inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but aggressive type of breast cancer that accounts for about 1-5% of all breast cancer cases. IBC usually starts with the buildup of cancer cells that block the lymphatic vessels in the breast. This can cause the breast to become red, swollen, and warm to the touch, with a texture that resembles the skin of an orange (known as peau d’orange). Other symptoms may include itching, tenderness, and aching of the breast, as well as a sudden increase in breast size or changes in the nipple or areola, such as inversion or flattening.
Because IBC is often mistaken for an infection or injury, it can be difficult to diagnose. Imaging tests such as mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRI scans may not detect the cancer, and a biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, IBC is typically treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy, often in a neoadjuvant setting (before surgery). Targeted therapies and immunotherapies may also be used to help fight the cancer.
Because of its aggressive nature, IBC requires prompt treatment and ongoing monitoring to ensure the cancer does not return or spread to other parts of the body. Patients with IBC often receive care from a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers, including medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and other specialists as needed.
Triple-negative breast cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a type of breast cancer that lacks three key receptors commonly found in breast cancer cells, namely the estrogen receptor (ER), the progesterone receptor (PR), and the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). TNBC accounts for about 10-20% of all breast cancers and tends to be more aggressive and fast-growing than other types of breast cancer.
Since TNBC cells lack these receptors, they cannot be treated with hormonal therapy or targeted therapies that specifically target these receptors, leaving chemotherapy as the main treatment option. TNBC is often diagnosed at a later stage than other types of breast cancer, making it more difficult to treat. However, new treatment approaches are being developed, such as immunotherapy, which aims to harness the power of the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer.
It is important to note that not all triple-negative breast cancers are the same and that there is significant heterogeneity among TNBC tumors, making the development of targeted therapies more challenging. Women with TNBC may also benefit from genetic testing and counseling to assess their risk of developing other cancers, such as ovarian cancer.
Breast cancer stages
Breast cancer stages refer to a system used to describe the extent or severity of breast cancer based on the size and spread of the cancerous cells. The most commonly used staging system for breast cancer is the TNM system, which stands for Tumor size, lymph Node involvement, and Metastasis (spread to other parts of the body).
The TNM system has several stages, ranging from Stage 0 to Stage IV, as follows:
Stage 0: This stage is also known as non-invasive breast cancer, or carcinoma in situ. The cancer cells are confined to the ducts or lobules of the breast and have not spread to nearby tissue.
Stage I: The tumor is small and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage II: The tumor is larger than in Stage I, and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage III: The tumor is larger than in Stage II, and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes and/or tissues.
Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, or liver.
The stage of breast cancer is an important factor in determining the appropriate treatment plan and predicting the outcome of the disease. It is typically determined by a combination of imaging tests, such as mammograms and MRI scans, as well as biopsies and other tests to determine the extent of the cancer’s spread.
Male breast cancer
Male breast cancer is a rare type of cancer that forms in the breast tissue of men. Although breast cancer is more commonly associated with women, men can also develop this disease.
The symptoms of male breast cancer may include a lump or thickening in the breast tissue, nipple retraction, redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin, and discharge from the nipple. These symptoms may also be accompanied by breast pain, swelling, or tenderness.
The causes of male breast cancer are not well understood, but certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These risk factors include increasing age, a family history of breast cancer, certain genetic mutations, exposure to radiation, and certain medical conditions such as liver disease.
Treatment options for male breast cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy, depending on the stage and characteristics of the cancer. As with any cancer, early detection is key to successful treatment outcomes, so it is important for men to perform regular breast self-exams and to seek medical attention if they notice any changes in their breast tissue or nipple.
Breast cancer survival rate
Breast cancer survival rates vary depending on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis and other individual factors such as age, overall health, and type of breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for localized breast cancer (cancer that has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs) is nearly 100%. For regional breast cancer (cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues), the 5-year survival rate is about 86%. For distant breast cancer (cancer that has spread to distant organs such as lungs or bones), the 5-year survival rate is about 28%.
It’s important to note that survival rates are only estimates and cannot predict an individual’s outcome. Many factors can affect a person’s response to treatment, and some people may live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis, especially if the cancer is caught early and treated aggressively.
Diagnosis of breast cancer
Breast cancer is typically diagnosed through a combination of medical history and physical exams, imaging tests, and laboratory tests.
- Medical history and physical exam: A doctor will ask you about your personal and family medical history, as well as conduct a physical examination of your breasts and underarms.
- Imaging tests: Mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI are imaging tests that can help detect abnormalities in the breast tissue.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure where a small sample of tissue is removed from the suspicious area and examined under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.
- Laboratory tests: Laboratory tests, such as hormone receptor and HER2/neu tests, may be performed on the biopsy sample to determine the type of breast cancer and its aggressiveness.
Based on the results of these tests, your doctor will determine if you have breast cancer and, if so, what stage it is and what treatment options are available.
A breast biopsy is a medical procedure in which a small sample of breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope to determine if there are any abnormal cells or signs of cancer. There are several different types of breast biopsy procedures, including:
- Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: A thin needle is inserted into the breast to remove a small sample of cells.
- Core needle biopsy: A larger needle is used to remove a small cylinder-shaped sample of breast tissue.
- Vacuum-assisted biopsy: A special instrument is used to remove multiple tissue samples with a single insertion of the needle.
- Surgical biopsy: A small incision is made in the breast and a sample of tissue is removed. This procedure is usually done under local anesthesia.
Breast biopsies are typically recommended when a lump or abnormality is found during a breast exam, mammogram, or other imaging tests. The procedure is generally safe and relatively painless, and can provide important information about the health of the breast tissue. However, as with any medical procedure, there are some risks, such as bleeding or infection, which can be minimized by following the appropriate precautions and post-procedure care.
Breast cancer treatment
Breast cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and personal preferences. Here are some common treatment options:
- Surgery: Surgery is often the first treatment for breast cancer, and may involve removing the tumor, a portion of the breast, or the entire breast (mastectomy).
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It is often used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It can be given before or after surgery, and may be used in combination with other treatments.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is used to block the effects of hormones that can stimulate the growth of some types of breast cancer cells. It may be used in combination with other treatments.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy drugs target specific proteins or genes that are involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. These drugs can be used in combination with other treatments.
It’s important to work with your healthcare team to determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs.
Hormone therapy is a treatment for certain types of breast cancer that are hormone receptor-positive. These cancers have receptors on their cells that can bind to estrogen or progesterone, which can fuel their growth. Hormone therapy works by blocking the effects of these hormones or reducing their levels in the body, which can slow or stop the growth of the cancer cells.
Hormone therapy may involve taking medications, such as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), aromatase inhibitors, or gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists, which can be given as pills, injections, or implants. These medications can have side effects, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, or joint pain, and may increase the risk of osteoporosis or blood clots.
Hormone therapy may also involve surgical removal of the ovaries in premenopausal women, which reduces the production of estrogen in the body.
Hormone therapy is typically used for several years after surgery and/or radiation therapy to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It may also be used as a palliative treatment for advanced or metastatic breast cancer to help control the growth and spread of the cancer cells. The specific type and duration of hormone therapy will depend on the individual patient’s cancer and medical history.
Breast cancer care typically involves a multidisciplinary approach with a team of healthcare professionals, which may include:
- Surgeons: who specialize in breast surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue
- Medical oncologists: who specialize in the treatment of cancer with chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy
- Radiation oncologists: who specialize in using radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
- Pathologists: who specialize in the diagnosis of cancer by examining tissue samples
- Radiologists: who specialize in interpreting imaging tests, such as mammograms, ultrasounds, or MRI scans
- Nurses: who provide supportive care and education to patients and their families throughout the treatment process
- Psychologists or social workers: who provide emotional support and counseling to patients and their families
Breast cancer care may involve several different treatment modalities, such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy, as well as supportive care to manage symptoms and side effects. The specific treatment plan will depend on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the individual patient’s overall health and preferences. It’s important for patients to work closely with their healthcare team to develop a personalized treatment plan and to receive ongoing follow-up care to monitor for any signs of recurrence or side effects.
How common is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among women globally.
In 2020, it was estimated that there were 2.3 million new cases of breast cancer diagnosed worldwide, accounting for about 11.7% of all new cancer cases. In the United States, it is estimated that there were about 284,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 49,000 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer diagnosed in women in 2021.
Breast cancer can also occur in men, although it is much less common. It is estimated that less than 1% of all breast cancer cases occur in men.
While breast cancer is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease, early detection and advances in treatment have improved survival rates and quality of life for many patients. It’s important for women to talk to their healthcare providers about recommended screening guidelines and to be aware of any changes in their breast health.
Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. These include:
- Gender: Breast cancer is much more common in women than in men.
- Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age, particularly after menopause.
- Family history: Women with a family history of breast cancer, particularly in a first-degree relative (such as a mother or sister), have a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Genetic mutations: Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer: Women who have had breast cancer in one breast are at an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast or a recurrence of the first cancer.
- Hormonal factors: Women who began menstruating at an early age, had a late menopause, or have never had children or had their first child at an older age, may have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol consumption: Women who drink alcohol, particularly more than one drink per day, may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese, particularly after menopause, may increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure: Women who have received radiation therapy to the chest for another medical condition, such as Hodgkin lymphoma, have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
It’s important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that a person will definitely develop breast cancer, and many people who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors. Regular breast cancer screening and early detection can help improve the chances of successful treatment and survival.
While there is no surefire way to prevent breast cancer, there are several lifestyle changes that can help reduce a person’s risk of developing the disease. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese, particularly after menopause, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight.
- Limiting alcohol consumption: Women who drink alcohol, particularly more than one drink per day, may have an increased risk of breast cancer. Limiting alcohol consumption can help reduce this risk.
- Regular exercise: Regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, as well as other chronic diseases.
- Breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed their children may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- Avoiding or limiting hormone therapy: Hormone therapy, particularly combined estrogen and progestin therapy, can increase the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Avoiding or limiting hormone therapy can help reduce this risk.
- Screening and early detection: Regular breast cancer screening, including mammography, clinical breast exams, and self-exams, can help detect breast cancer at an early stage when it is more treatable.
It’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about breast cancer risk and any appropriate screening or prevention strategies. In some cases, people at high risk of breast cancer may benefit from additional measures, such as risk-reducing medications or prophylactic surgery.
Breast cancer screening involves testing for breast cancer in women who do not have any symptoms or signs of the disease. The goal of breast cancer screening is to detect breast cancer at an early stage, when it is more treatable.
There are several methods used for breast cancer screening, including:
- Mammography: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can detect changes in the breast tissue that may indicate the presence of cancer.
- Clinical breast exam: A healthcare provider can perform a physical examination of the breast to check for any lumps or other abnormalities.
- Breast self-exam: A woman can perform a self-exam of the breast to check for any lumps or other changes.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women at average risk of breast cancer should undergo yearly mammograms starting at age 45, and can switch to mammograms every other year starting at age 55. Women at higher risk of breast cancer may need to start screening earlier and/or undergo additional screening tests, such as breast MRI.
It’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about individual breast cancer risk and recommended screening guidelines. In addition to regular screening, it’s also important for women to be aware of any changes in their breast health and report them to a healthcare provider promptly.
For some people at high risk of breast cancer, preventive treatment may be an option to help reduce the risk of developing the disease. The decision to undergo preventive treatment should be made after a careful evaluation of individual risk factors and potential benefits and risks of treatment.
There are two types of preventive treatment for breast cancer:
- Risk-reducing medications: Certain medications, such as tamoxifen, raloxifene, and aromatase inhibitors, can reduce the risk of breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease. These medications work by blocking the effects of estrogen, which can promote the growth of breast cancer cells. However, these medications can have side effects, and the benefits and risks of treatment should be carefully considered.
- Prophylactic surgery: Prophylactic surgery involves removing the breasts or ovaries to reduce the risk of breast or ovarian cancer in women at high risk of these diseases due to a genetic mutation, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. This type of surgery can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer, but it is a major surgery with potential risks and long-term effects.
It’s important for people at high risk of breast cancer to talk to a healthcare provider about their options for preventive treatment and the potential benefits and risks of each option. Regular breast cancer screening is still important for people undergoing preventive treatment, as no preventive strategy is 100% effective in preventing breast cancer.
Thanks for reading!
Don’t Forget to Share this Article with Your Loved Ones.