Breast cancer in the breasts occur when cells in the breast tissue mutate and rapidly divide. These abnormal cells form a tumor. A tumor can become cancerous when these abnormally growing cells spread to other parts of the breast or the body. The process of abnormal cells diving is called metastasis. Metastasis happens via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system that helps fight infections.
It generally begins in the milk-producing glands (lobules), or in the tube-shaped ducts that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple. Sometimes, it begins taking shape in the fatty and fibrous connective tissue of the breasts.
Both women and men are at risk of developing tumor in the breast. But it is 100 times more common in women than men. It is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women around the world. But the mortality rates have declined in recent years. Better awareness, regular screening and advanced treatment options have proved useful.
How does breast cancer occur?
Tumor in the breast begins with a genetic mutation in the DNA of breast cancer cells. Some of these mutations may develop randomly over time. Naturally, the human body to constantly mutate and fix itself. When the body’s ability to kill mutating cells is inhibited, a tumor occurs. Some mutations are hereditary while others are sporadic. Read on to find out the causes.
Risks due to genetic predisposition
- Being a woman
- Being an older woman
- Family history
- Personal history of having breast cancer
- Genetic abnormalities
- Race and ethnicity
- History of menstrual activity
- Dense breasts
Risks due to lifestyle habits and environmental exposure
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight or being obese
- Alcohol consumption
- Exposure to radiation (before the age of 30)
- Pregnancy timelines
- Breast feeding history
- History of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Variations in the size and structure of the nipple
- Permanent breast stains
- Persistent lumps
- Nipple discharges in the form of yellowish, brown, and red liquid
- Persistent swelling underneath the collarbone or even under the arm
- Breast redness that is not usual
- Skin irritation and itchiness
International guidelines recommend regular examination for women more than 50 years of age. Screening tests include:
- Screening mammogram: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Upon confirmation of tumor cells, a diagnostic mammogram is recommended by doctors.
- Clinical examination: An examination for breast lumps and around the chest and underarms is recommended.
- Breast MRI: An MRI is recommended for women with high risk genes (BRCA 1/2).
Further diagnostic tests include:
- Diagnostic mammogram: This is an advanced mammography used particularly for diagnostic purposes. It uses X-rays and compression plates to check for abnormalities in the breasts.
- Breast ultrasonography (USG): Sound waves are used to image
- Biopsy: A gold standard test for cancer diagnosis, the process involves extorting tumor tissues using a needle. The tissue is then examined under a microscope in a laboratory.
This form of treatment involves mastectomy i.e. complete removal of the breast or lumpectomy i.e. tumor removal within margins. The latter is also termed as surgery for breast conservation.
This breast cancer treatment involves the usage of intense radiation for killing off cancerous cells. In most cases, radiotherapy is used as a follow-up treatment after successful mastectomy.
This form of treatment involves the usage of intravenous medication administration for killing off cancerous cells.
- Hormonal Therapy
An extremely focused treatment variant for the hormone receptors that are either ER or PR positive. However, the final hormone choice depends on our menopausal status.
- Targeted Therapy
This is a cancer treatment strategy that involves targeting specific proteins and genes, located within the cancerous region of an existing tumor.
Breast Cancer Stages
Accurate breast cancer stages provides data about the following:
- The size of the tumor
- The invasive nature of the tumor
- If the tumor has reached the lymph nodes
- If the cancer is a relapse
Depending on the above factors tumor in the breast is stages from 0 to 4. Staging helps doctors lay out an optimum treatment plan to follow through.
Stage 0: alsoIn situ breast cancer – The cancer cells are only in the duct or lobule where they started and have not grown into nearby breast tissue (non-invasive).
Early stage breast cancer – The tumour is smaller than 5 cm and the cancer has not spread to more than 3 lymph nodes. It includes stages 1A, 1B and 2A.
Locally advanced breast cancer – The tumour is larger than 5 cm. The cancer may have spread to the skin, the muscles of the chest wall or more than 3 lymph nodes. It includes stages 2B, 3A, 3B and 3C. Inflammatory breast cancer is also considered locally advanced breast cancer.
Metastatic breast cancer – The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It is stage 4.
Generally, relative survival rates have been developed as a more accurate method to study and estimate the real effect of cancer on survival. These relative survival rates compare the longevity of women with breast cancer, to women across the general population. So if the five-year relative survival rate for a specific type of breast cancer is 90%, it means that people who have been diagnosed with that type of breast cancer are almost 90% as likely to live for the next five years on an average, as compared to people who do not have that cancer.