Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women. It affects approximately one out of eleven to twelve women at some stage of their life. Next to lung cancer, breast cancer is the second most fatal cancer in women. The breast is composed of identical tissues in males and females, that is why breast cancer can also occur in males but the incidence is very low, less than one percent.
What is breast cancer? Breast cancer occurs when the cells in the breast begin to grow uncontrollably and invade the nearby tissues or spread throughout the body. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body, they are not cancerous. They are rarely life threatening, and generally benign tumors can be removed and don’t usually grow back. Malignant tumors on the other hand, can invade and destroy nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body, they are cancerous. They may be life threatening. They can be removed but they sometimes grow back. Cells from malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells spread by breaking away from the original or primary tumor and entering the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The cells invade other organs and form new tumors that damage these organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
When breast cancer cells spread, they are often found in lymph nodes near the breast. Breast cancer can also spread to almost any part of the body; the most common are the bones, liver, lungs, and brain. This new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same primary tumor, which results to different types of cancer.
What are the risk factors of breast cancer? The exact cause of this disease cannot be determined but doctors often explain why one woman develops breast cancers and another does not. One thing is for sure, bumping, bruising, or touching the breast does not cause cancer. It is also not contagious. Research has shown that women with certain risk factors are more likely to develop the disease. Here are some risk factors for breast cancer:
Age. As a woman gets older the chances of getting the disease goes up. Most cases occur in women over 60. The disease is not common before menopause.
Personal history of breast cancer. If a woman has had breast cancer on one of her breast, there is an increased rate of getting cancer on the other breast.
Family history. If a family member has had breast cancer, like the mother, sister or daughter, or other relatives (either the mother’s or father’s side) the risk of breast cancer is higher.
Certain Breast Changes. Some women have abnormal cells in the breast called, atypical hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ, increases the risk of breast cancer.
Gene Changes. Changes in genes increases the risk of breast cancer, this includes BRCA1, BRCA2, and others.
Reproductive and Menstrual History. The older the woman is when she has her first child increases the chance of having the disease. Women who had their first menstrual period before age 12, women who went through menopause after age 55, women who never had children, women who take menopausal hormone therapy with estrogen plus progestin, have risk to having breast cancer.
Race. More often, breast cancer is diagnosed in white women than Latin, Asian, or African American women.
Other risk factors include: radiation therapy to the chest before age 30, breast density (more dense or fatty tissue are at increased risk), taking DES (diethylstilbestrol), being overweight or obese, lack of physical activity and alcohol. Other possible risk factors are under study, including certain substances in the environment.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer? Unfortunately, early stages of this disease may not have symptoms. Following screening recommendations or having regular breast check-ups is important. As a tumor grows in size, it produces a variety of symptoms that include:
* lump or thickening in the breast or underarm
* change in size or shape of the breast
* nipple discharge or nipple turning inward
* redness or scaling of the skin or nipple
* ridges or pitting of the breast skin
Having or experiencing these symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have breast cancer, but you need to be examined by a doctor. Early detection and treatment of the disease if diagnosed can save you from illness or maybe even death.