About Breast Cancer

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Verified By: Dr. Donald John Babu (MBBS, MS, FCPS, MCh - Surgical Oncology, MRCS (UK), FICS) | Updated On January 8, 2021

What is Breast cancer?

Breast cancer is formed in the cells of the breasts. Breast cancer begins when an irregular cell divides, loses control of its growth mechanism, and begins to multiply and in time they affect the surrounding healthy tissues, turning a healthy organ into a diseased one.

How does breast cancer start?

Body fat produces estrogen, a female hormone that can act against the breast tissues, leading to cancer. The cancer forms either in the lobules or the ducts of the breast. Lobules are glands that produce milk, and ducts are the pathways bringing the milk from the glands to the nipple. The uncontrolled cancer cells invade other healthy breast tissue and travel to the lymph nodes under the arms.

Evidences are growing that eating too much fat (both saturated and unsaturated) increases your chance of getting cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, and endometrium [lining of the uterus].

Diet, Nutrition & Cancer Prevention

How does breast cancer spread?

The spread of cancer from where it started to another organ is called metastasis. Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the surrounding tissues, bloodstream or lymph system and are carried to other parts of the body.

What are the risk factors and causes of Breast Cancer?

  • Early menstruation and Late menopause – When menstruation starts at an early age (before 12 years of age) or getting menopause later, increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy – Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat menopause, have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer will decrease when women stop taking hormone therapy medications.
  • Radiation exposure – If you have received radiation to your chest as a child or young adult, this will increase the risk of breast cancer
  • Drinking excessive alcohol will increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • A family history of breast cancer will increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Women who have never been pregnant have increased risk of breast cancer
  • Giving birth at an older age –Women who do not have their first child until after age 35 have an increased risk of breast cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

The symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • Discharge from nipples
  • A lump that feels different from the rest of the breast
  • Changes in how the nipple looks
  • Skin Dimpling
  • Change in skin color or texture

What are the stages of Breast cancer?

Breast cancer can be divided into stages based on how large the tumor or tumors are and how much it has spread. Cancers that are large and/or have invaded nearby tissues or organs are at a higher stage than cancers that are small and/or still contained in the breast. To stage breast cancer, doctors need to know:

  • If the cancer is invasive or non-invasive
  • how large the tumor is
  • whether the lymph nodes are involved
  • If cancer has spread to nearby tissue or organs

Breast cancer has five main stages: stages 0 to 4.

Stage 0 breast cancer

  • Stage 0 is DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ). Cancer cells in DCIS remain confined to the ducts in the breast and have not spread into nearby tissue.

Stage 1 breast cancer

  • Stage 1A: The primary tumor is 2 centimeters wide or less and the lymph nodes are not affected.
  • Stage 1B: Cancer is found in nearby lymph nodes and there might not be a visible tumor in the breast, or the tumor could be smaller than 2 cm.

Stage 2 breast cancer

  • Stage 2A: The tumor is smaller than 2 cm and has spread to 1–3 nearby lymph nodes or the tumor is between 2 and 5 cm and has not spread to any lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2B: The tumor is between 2 and 5 cm and has spread to 1–3 axillary (armpit) lymph nodes or the tumor is larger than 5 cm and has not spread to any lymph nodes.

Stage 3 breast cancer

  • Stage 3A: Cancer has spread to 4–9 axillary lymph nodes or has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes, and the primary tumor can be any size. Tumors are greater than 5 cm and cancer has spread to 1–3 axillary lymph nodes or any breastbone nodes.
  • Stage 3B: A tumor has invaded the chest wall or skin and may or may not have invaded up to 9 lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3C: Cancer is found in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes near the collarbone, or internal mammary nodes.

Stage 4 breast cancer

  • Stage 4 breast cancer can have a tumor of any size, and its cancer cells have spread to nearby and distant lymph nodes as well as distant organs.

The testing your doctor does will determine the stage of your breast cancer, which will affect your treatment.

What can be done to avoid mastectomy (the removal of a breast)? 

An essential factor is early diagnosis. Although women are advised to do self-examination of the breasts to check for any lumps, it is suggested that women with larger breasts should have an annual mammography, or breast X-ray examination. Because it is difficult to notice a lump deep in the tissue by just a simple palpation.

Can breast cancer be prevented?

  • You must go for your first mammogram once you’ve reached the age of 35 or 40, because five-year survival rate is more than 85 percent for breast cancers discovered during Stage I.
  • Breast-feeding reduces the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Every year a woman breast-feeds she cuts her lifetime risk of developing breast cancer by 4.3 percent.
  • The high rates of colon and breast cancer have been attributed in good part to diet. Therefore, what you eat over the years can influence the possibilities of a cancer being initiated.

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