Developing a good understanding of breast cancer can help you and your loved ones deal with it if you get a diagnosis.
And chances of getting it aren’t that remote. BreastCancer.org says about 12% of American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer — one that can spread. A little less than that will be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer.
The cancer can affect men as well as women, by the way.
In women, breast cancer develops in the areas of the breasts that produce milk — the milk ducts or lobules. Breast cancer in the ducts, called ductal carcinoma, is the most common. Cancer in the lobules is called lobular carcinoma.
Breast cancer tumors can show up on a mammogram, an ultrasound, or an MRI, or be detected in a self check-up. A malignant tumor can spread to other areas of the body, such as lymph nodes.
Invasive breast cancer is one in which cancer cells break out from ducts or lobules. The cells go from there to other parts of the body and multiply.
A non-invasive breast cancer is one that has yet to spread. Although the cancer cells are still in their original spot, they can eventually become invasive.
Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women globally, according to BreastCancer.org.
In normal breasts there is a cycle of cell life, growth and death: The millions that die are replaced by new ones. Cancer leads to cells growing at a much more rapid rate than the body needs.
A telling cancer symptom is lumps. Not all are cancerous, but if you feel one, a doctor needs to check it right away. Other breast cancer symptoms include pain and headaches.
Additional symptoms to contact your doctor about include:
- Nipple discharge, especially blood.
- The development of thick tissue in the breast.
- Changes in appearance of a nipple or breast.
- Pain in the breasts or armpits that is not occurring at menstruation.
- Changes in the size or shape of a breast.
- The development of scaly or flaky skin around a breast.
Scientists don’t know what causes breast cancer. One person might get it, while another with similar physical characteristics and lifestyle won’t.
Researchers have identified risk factors for the disease, however.
Age is a factor, especially after menopause. The older a woman is, the more chance she will have of developing breast cancer. Genetics can play a role in some women developing breast cancer, according to The Cleveland Clinic.
If a woman had breast cancer before, it is possible it will return. Exposure to the sex hormone estrogen and obesity are also risk factors. Taking more than one drink a day is a risk factor as well. And radiation exposure and hormone replacement therapy increase the risk of someone developing breast cancer.
There are several ways to diagnose breast cancer. Breast exams can detect it. Mammograms, or breast x-rays, can be either two-dimensional or three-dimensional. MRI and ultrasound are other imaging devices that can spot cancer. If necessary, your doctor may ask you to have a biopsy.
Choosing a breast cancer treatment regimen depends on how aggressive and extensive it is, what your doctor thinks, and your preferences. Common treatments include radiation, chemotherapy, lumpectomy, or mastectomy. Whichever way you’re leaning, you’d be smart to get a second opinion before you commit to a treatment course.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.