It is a good idea for every woman to be as informed as possible about the signs, symptoms, and complications of breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers facing women today.
Unfortunately, many women are still unfamiliar with the basic facts about breast cancer. As a result, many women are not engaging in preventative action or remain unaware that they are suffering from the disease. By maintaining awareness of breast cancer signs and symptoms, you can take steps to lower your risk of developing the disease.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease that causes the cells inside of your breast to grow too rapidly. Typically, breast cells grow in controlled cycles; this prevents too many cells from forming at any one time. Sometimes, however, these cycles break down, and cell growth becomes chaotic. As a result, masses of cells begin to form in your breast tissue, developing into cancerous tumors.
Breast cancer can be invasive or non-invasive. Invasive breast cancer is much more serious, as these cancer cells can travel to different areas of your body, including your vital organs. Non-invasive breast cancer only affects the breast or surrounding breast tissue.
Who Gets Breast Cancer?
Every year, over 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. Though women are more likely to develop the disease, men can also suffer from male breast cancer. Everyone is at risk for developing breast cancer, however, there are certain factors that can increase your risk.
Risk factors include:
- being female
- aging (risk of breast cancer rises after the age of 40)
- having a personal history of breast cancer
- having a family history of breast cancer or prostate cancer
- experiencing changes in breast shape, size, or density
- having one of the breast cancer genes (BRCA 1 or 2)
- experiencing early menarche or late menopause
- being overweight or obese
What Causes Breast Cancer?
There seem to be many factors that contribute to the development of breast cancer, ranging from hormone levels to weight. However, the main factor involved in breast cancer appears to be genetics.
Your genetic code is made up of DNA strands that contain information dictating your appearance and bodily functions. Specific genes in your DNA are responsible for controlling cell growth.
People with breast cancer appear to have abnormalities in specific cell-controlling genes, known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. These abnormalities are what cause the breast cells to grow out of control.
Types of Breast Cancer
There are numerous types of breast cancer. Each type of breast cancer is associated with a different prognosis and may require different types of treatments.
- Ductal Carcinoma in Situ: This is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. It accounts for 20% of all breast cancers and originates inside the mammary ducts in the breast. This type of breast cancer is often cured, if caught early.
- Lobular Carcinoma in Situ: This type of breast cancer originates in the milk-producing glands in the breasts. It is non-invasive, and will not grow outside of breast tissue. Lobular carcinoma in situ is often associated with an increased risk for developing an invasive breast cancer.
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for 80% of all invasive breast cancer cases. It begins in the breast ducts, but can later move to other areas of the body. If caught early, this type of breast cancer can be treated effectively.
- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: This type of breast cancer accounts for only 10% of all invasive breast cancer cases. It begins in the milk-producing glands and can quickly spread to other areas of the breast and body.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare cancer, accounting for only 1% to 4% of all breast cancers cases. Inflammatory breast cancer is caused by cancer cells blocking the lymph vessels in the breasts. It causes redness of the breast and gives the breast skin a dimpled appearance. Prognosis for inflammatory breast cancer tends to be mediocre.
- Medullary Carcinoma: Medullary carcinoma is a rare invasive cancer, characterized by large, abnormally shaped cancer cells. The prognosis for medullary carcinoma is good, if it is caught early.
- Paget Disease of the Nipple: This type of cancer occurs in the breast ducts and spreads to the cells in the nipple and areola. It is extremely rare, occurring in only 1% of cases. Symptoms include crusting and oozing of the nipple, breast bleeding, and scaly breast skin.
- Tubular Carcinoma: This is a very rare type of invasive breast cancer, accounting for only 2% of all breast cancer cases. It is characterized by tube-shaped cancer cells and is associated with an excellent prognosis.
- a change in the shape or size of the breast
- a change in the texture or color of the breast skin
- nipple discharge
- the presence of a hard lump in the breast or underneath the underarm
- Pre-Cancer/Stage 0: Stage 0 indicates that you have precancerous cells in the milk lobules or ducts in your breast. These cells haven’t yet spread outside of the ducts of lobules into the breast. Some women will develop breast cancer while others will remain precancerous.
- Stage I: Stage I indicates that cancer has spread to the tissue surrounding the initial cancer site. In this stage, the cancerous tumor in no bigger than one inch across and hasn’t spread past the breast margin.
- Stage II: Stage II indicates that the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes beneath your arms. Tumors are generally one to two inches in width.
- Stage III: Stage III breast cancer indicates that cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes, breastbone tissue, or to other breast tissues. In this stage, tumors are larger than two inches.
- Stage IV: Stage IV, or metastic cancer, occurs when cancer cells have spread to other areas of the body.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Unfortunately, breast cancer usually doesn’t present any symptoms until the latter stages of the disease. At this point, the cancer has usually progressed, making treatment and recovery more difficult. Some common signs of breast cancer include:
Stages of Breast Cancer
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your health care provider will likely perform some tests to determine what stage your cancer has progressed to. The breast cancer stages are:
The sooner a diagnosis can be made, the quicker treatment can be started.