What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that originates from the breast tissue which may include a lump in the breast and a change in the shape of the breast. Additional signs of breast cancer may include dimpling of the skin, fluid coming from the nipple, or a red scaly patch of skin. Bone pain, swollen lymph nodes, shortness of breath, or yellow skin may be experienced in patients with distant spread of the disease. The woman’s breast consists of 15 to 20 sections known as lobes and made of smaller sections known as lobules. Lobules consist of groups of tiny glands that are capable of milk making.
The breast cancer woe begins in cells by building blocks that make up the body tissues and organs; including the breast itself. When normal cells in the breast and other parts of the body grow, they split and form fresh cells as needed. And when normal cells become old and damage as a result, they die, giving room to the new cells to take their place. In some cases, this process goes wrong, as new cells which aren’t needed by the body could form while old or damaged cells don’t die as they should. This builds up extra cells, forming a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumor.
Tumors in the breast can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer): Benign tumors are usually not harmful, rarely invade the tissues around them, don’t spread to other parts of the body, and can be removed without it growing again. But malignant tumors may be a threat to life, can invade nearby organs and tissues (such as the chest wall), can spread to other parts of the body, and can often time be removed. However, it sometimes grows again.
The spreading of breast cancer cells happens when the cells break away from a breast tumor and can travel through blood vessels or lymph vessels to get to the other parts of the body. When the spreading is done, cancer cells are likely to glue to other tissues, forming new tumors that are capable of damaging those tissues. The spread of breast cancer from its original place to other body parts result in the new tumor having the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary/original tumor. For instance, the spread of breast cancer to the lung turns the cancer cells in the lung to breast cancer. At that point, the disease is metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. For that reason, it’s treated as breast cancer, not lung cancer.
Types Of Breast Cancer
In the women’s world, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer apart from skin cancer, especially in the United States of America. As at 2012, about 227,000 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer. More so, the commonest type of breast cancer is a ductal carcinoma, which begins in cells that line a breast duct. 7 out of 10 women with breast cancer are plagued with ductal carcinoma.
The second commonest breast cancer type is a lobular carcinoma, which begins in a lobule of the breast. Unlike the ductal carcinoma, only 1 out of every 10 women with cancer are plagued with lobular carcinoma. Other women, however, can be either be plagued with both ductal and lobular or have a less common type of breast cancers.
Stages Of Breast Cancer
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, women may need other tests to help choose the best treatment. But before then, it is important to understand the stage of cancer to know what treatment is recommended for it, keeping in mind that the stage of breast cancer depends on the size of the breast tumor and the extent to which it has spread to the lymph nodes or other body parts. Medical advisers describe breast cancer stages with the use of Roman numerals 0, I, II, III, and IV and the letters A, B, and C.
When breast cancer is said to be at Stage I, it supposes an early-stage breast cancer, while the one at Stage IV supposes advanced cancer which has spread to other body parts such as the liver. The stage of breast cancer is often unknown until surgery is conducted and the tumor is removed from the breast and one or more underarm lymph nodes.
Breast Cancer At Stage 0
Stage 0 is carcinoma in situ. In ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), abnormal cells are in the breast duct’s lining, but the abnormal cells have not entered the nearby breast tissue or spread outside the duct.
Breast Cancer At Stage IA
At this stage, the tumor in the breast is approximately 2 centimeters (no more than 3/4 of an inch) across. Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
Breast Cancer At Stage IB
At this stage, the tumor is also approximately 2 centimeters across. Here, cancer cells can be found in lymph nodes.
Breast Cancer At Stage IIA
Again, the tumor approximately 2 centimeters across, with cancer having spread to underarm lymph nodes. On the order hand, the tumor could be between 2 and 5 centimeters (between 3/4 of an inch and 2 inches) across, without cancer spreading to underarm lymph nodes.
Breast Cancer At Stage IIB
The tumor here is between 2 and 5 centimeters across with cancer spreading to underarm lymph nodes. The tumor could also be larger than 5 centimeters across without cancer spreading to underarm lymph nodes.
Breast Cancer At Stage IIIA
At this stage, the tumor is about 5 centimeters across with cancer having spread to underarm lymph nodes attached to every single tissue nearby. Or, cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone. More so, cancer could be more than 5 centimeters across, with cancer having spread to underarm lymph nodes that may be attached to each other or tissue nearby. Cancer may also spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone without spreading to underarm lymph nodes.
Breast Cancer At Stage IIIB
Breast tumor that grows into the chest wall or the skin of the breast can vary in size. This may render the breast swollen or develop lumps in the breast skin. With cancer having spread to underarm lymph nodes, the lymph nodes may attach to each other or nearby tissue. Or, cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone.
Breast Cancer At Stage IIIC
Here, the breast cancer, which can be of any size, has spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone and under the arm. Or, cancer has spread to lymph nodes above or below the collarbone.
Breast Cancer At Stage IV
The tumor can be any size, and cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, bones, or brain.
Breast Cancer Treatment
The next step after finding out the stage of the breast cancer is treatment. Women with breast cancer have many treatment options which include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.
More than one type of treatment may be received as the case may be. No one treatment method is recommended for all women, as the treatment that’s best for one woman may not be best for another.
The recommended treatment depends mainly on the stage of breast cancer, whether the tumor has hormone receptors, whether the tumor has too much HER2 and the patient’s general health condition. Additionally, treatment plan depends on the size of the tumor in relation to the size of the breast, whether you have gone through menopause or at any stage of the disease, care is available to control pain and other symptoms, to relieve the side effects of treatment, and to ease emotional concerns.
Surgery, which is of many kinds, is the commonest treatment for this cancer. A surgeon can describe each kind of surgery, compare the benefits and risks, and help women decide which kind might be best for them. The ultimate goal of breast cancer surgery is to remove the entire tumor from the breast. Some lymph nodes from the underarm area (axillary nodes) may also be removed to see if cancer cells are present or not. There are two basic types of surgery to remove breast cancer which include Lumpectomy and Mastectomy.
Lumpectomy is also referred to, as breast-conserving surgery, partial mastectomy or wide excision. This kind of surgery ensures the removal of the tumor and a small rim of normal tissue around the tumor while the rest of the breast remains intact.
Mastectomy, on the other hand, is the surgical removal of the entire breast. Some women, however, have the option of mastectomy or lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) plus radiation therapy. Other women can only have a mastectomy.
The goal of radiation therapy is to kill any cancer cells that might be left in or around the breast after surgery. It uses targeted, high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. This kind of cancer treatment is recommended women who have ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS, non-invasive breast cancer) and early stage breast cancer. Also, radiation is a standard therapy for most women who have locally advanced breast cancer and inflammatory breast cancer. It is often given to women who are treated with lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) for DCIS. In rare cases, radiation therapy is given to women treated with mastectomy for DCIS.
Chemotherapy drugs exterminates or incapacitates cancer cells. This treatment usually comes before radiation therapy and after breast surgery; for those with early breast cancer.
In the cases of women with large tumors who need a mastectomy, chemotherapy is occasionally used before surgery (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy). Neoadjuvant chemotherapy may shrink the tumor enough that a lumpectomy becomes an option.
There are some breast cancer situations where the cells need estrogen and/or progesterone (female hormones) to grow. Hormone therapy causes the growth of these tumors slow down or stop ultimately, which is done by preventing the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. The hormone therapy usually comes after surgery. In cases involving postmenopausal women, it may be used before surgery (called neoadjuvant hormone therapy) in an effort to try and shrink a tumor enough that a lumpectomy becomes an option to a mastectomy.
This is a kind of therapy designed to attack a certain molecular agent or pathway that is involved in the development of cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapies eradicate cancer cells with little harm to healthy cells.
Breast Cancer Causes
The general knowledge of the cause of this cancer is the damage to a cell's DNA. But then, there is more to it. Women with certain risk factors are more likely to be plagued with the breast cancer woe than others.
A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. A common risk factor is the drinking of alcohol. This is one major causes of breast cancers. Be that as it may, most risk factors such as having a family history of breast cancers can hardly be avoided. Having a risk factor doesn't imply that a woman will get breast cancer. Many women who have risk factors never develop breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Prevention
The risk of breast cancers may be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, being physically active, and breastfeeding of children. With a high level of physical activity, the risk of breast cancers is reduced by about 14%. Tactics that boost physical activity and reduce obesity has other benefits like reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Also, high intake of citrus fruit has been associated with a 10% reduction in the risk of breast cancer.
Medications could also prevent the rise of breast cancers. Selective estrogen receptor modulators like tamoxifen reduce the risk of breast cancers. However, it increases the risk of thromboembolism and endometrial cancer. More so, there’s no overall change in the risk of death, thus not recommended for the prevention of breast cancers in women at average risk but may be offered for those at high risk. The benefit of breast cancer reduction continues for at least five years after stopping a course of treatment with these medications.