Causes of breast cancer
The exact causes of breast cancer are as of yet, unknown. However what we do know is that the biggest risk factor of breast cancer is age; the older a women gets the higher the risk.
Other factors include heredity patterns – if one or more of your family members have had breast cancer such as your mother, your sister or any of your cousins then the risk for you is higher.
Obesity, early puberty, childbearing in later stages of life and lifestyle factors such as alcohol intake are also risk factors behind breast cancer.
Are you at risk?
With something as deadly and as serious as breast cancer it is always wise to assume we are all at risk, without worrying ourselves silly of course. Nonetheless it is always wise to concern oneself with such a disease and to be extremely proactive in self examination and breast screening.
Risk factors to consider:
Age – as you grow older the risk increases. 18% of breast cancer diagnosis involves women in their 40s, where as it is 77% for those over the age of 50.
Heredity – a family history of breast cancer increases the risk factor.
Personal history – if you have cancer in one breast, the risk factor of getting it in your other breast increases. This is different from cancer returning after treatment.
Race – white women are more at risk than black, Asian and Hispanic women for example.
Previous breast radiation therapy – women who have had previous breast radiation therapy for the treatment of other cancers such as Hodgkin disease or non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are at higher risk.
Menstrual periods – women who started puberty under the age of 12 or women who went through the menopause stage after the age of 55 are at higher risk.
Previous abnormal breast biopsy – women who have underwent previous breast biopsy showing any of the following results; atypical hyperplasia (lobular or ductal), fibroadenomas with complex features, hyperplasia without atypia, sclerosing adenosis and solitary papilloma, are at higher risk.
Genetics – women who have an inherited gene abnormality in either or both of the breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 are at higher risk.
Late or no childbearing – women who give birth for the first time over the age of 30 or who haven’t had children, are at higher risk.
Obesity – being overweight can increase the risk of getting breast cancer.
Alcohol intake – women who drink alcohol are at higher risk than women who don’t drink alcohol.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – women who use HRT long-term are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
What if I have no risk factors?
Incredibly, some women with no significant risk factors have had breast cancer where as some with several risk factors have never developed the disease. Breast cancer isn’t selective nor is it a certainty.
Breast cancer symptoms
Although breast cancer screening has proved successful in targeting the disease in it’s infancy and before any clear signs or symptoms develop, not all screening tests detect cancer so the signs to watch out for are:
- Breast lumps, often hard, painless tissue mass with uneven edges. Note: Some lumps can be soft, rounded and smaller so be sure to pay attention to anything unusual.
- Swelling of an area of the breast.
- Skin irritations or dimpling.
- A lump in the underarm area.
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inwards.
- Reddish marks or scales in the nipple or breast skin tissue.
- Abnormal nipple discharge (other than breastfeeding milk)
Types of breast cancer
There are four main types of breast cancer, all named after the area of the breast in which the cancer can develop, these are:
1. DCIS or Ductal Carcinoma in situ
This cancer is in the milk ducts of the breast and considered to be a stage 0 cancer. That means the cancer has not spread anywhere else. DCIS is almost always curable.
2. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
The milk ducts are also where this cancer’s origin is. However, this variety goes through the duct walls and enters the fatty part of the breast in an insidious way. Invasive ductal carcinoma is considered the most common type of breast cancer.
3. LCIS or Lobular carcinoma in situ
LCIS is not a “real” cancer, but it serves as a red flag as to a greater possibility of developing full blown breast cancer later. Its location is pinpointed to the breast lobules, where milk is produced. With this type of cancer, both the doctor and patient have to keep an eye on the situation with regular check-ups and mammograms.
4. Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
The lobules in the breast are the starting area for this infiltrating type of cancer. It spreads to other areas of the breast and even the rest of the body.
Stages of breast cancer
There are 5 stages of breast cancer, such as:
Stage 0 cancer
Stage 0 cancer cells stay inside the breast duct without invading other breast tissue.
Stage 1 cancer
Stage 1 consists of the cancer forming into a tumor of 2 centimeters or less and is confined to the breast.
Stage 2 cancer
Stage 2 consists of the cancer tumor growing to over 2 centimeters but under 5 centimeters or there is invasion of the lymph nodes under the arm.
Stage 3 cancer
Stage 3 is advanced cancer where the tumor is more than 5 centimeters across, or is extensive in the lymph nodes, or has spread to the lymph nodes or other tissue near to the breast.
Stage 4 cancer
Stage 4 is where the cancer has spread or grown to other areas of the body.
Breast cancer treatment
There are various forms of breast cancer treatment available depending on the size of the tumor, location, lab tests and the severity of the cancer.
The most common forms of treatment are:
This procedure involves removing the malignant tumor and along with a small patch of surrounding breast tissue.
This procedure is similar to a lumpectomy but removes more breast tissue.
This procedure involves the removal of the affected breast and can vary depending on the cancer or patient with three versions; simple, modified radical, and radical. A mastectomy may also remove part of or all of the underarm lymph nodes.
Lymph node removal
As the name suggests, this involves the removal of or part of the lymph nodes with either axillary dissection or sentinel lymph node dissection
Chemotherapy treatment is a course of cancer fighting drugs taken either orally or injected through the veins and flows through the blood streams affecting all the body.
This form of treatment involves using high energy light beams to penetrate the cancer cells to stop them from growing or spreading. While radiation also kills healthy cells, these cells can repair themselves or grow back.
There are a whole host of drug therapy treatments that can be used in conjunction with surgery or independently such as; Herceptin, Ellence, Taxol, Docetaxel and Aromasin for example.