Breast Cancer What Every Woman Needs to Know?

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Breast Cancer What Every Woman Needs to Know?

Breast Cancer What Every Woman Needs to Know:

Breast cancer is one of the widely covered cancers in media around the world. In fact most of us have learned about it through advertisements and awareness programs, run by international health organizations, NGOs, and governing bodies, on different communication platforms.

But, does everyone know about breast cancer and its risk factors, Where and when breast cancer starts? How breast cancer spreads? let aside the available treatments and tests? The answer is “no.” So Let’s have a look!

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer Starts when:

  • Cells in the breast begin to grow out of control.
  • These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as alump.
  • The tumor is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body.
  • Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too. (American Cancer Society)
  • Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and can spread to other areas of the body. 

Where Breast Cancer Starts:

  • Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast.
  • Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers).
  • Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers).
  • There are also other types of breast cancer that are less common.
  • A small number of cancers start in other tissues in the breast.
  • These cancer  are called sarcomas and lymphomas and are not really thought of as breast cancers.
  • Although many types of breast cancer can cause a lump in the breast, not all do.
  • There are other symptoms of breast cancer you should watch for and report to a health
    care provider.

  • It’s also important to understand that most breast lumps are not cancer, They are benign. 
  • Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life threatening.
  • But some benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care provider to determine whether it is benign or cancer and whether it might impact your future cancer risk.

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How Breast Cancer Spreads:

Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and are carried to other parts of the body

  • The lymph system is a network of lymph (or lymphatic) vessels found throughout the body.
  • The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid and connect lymph nodes.
  • Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped collections of immune system cells.
  • Lymph vessels are like small veins, except that they carry a clear fluid called lymph (instead of blood) away from the breast.
  • Lymph contains tissue fluid and waste products, as well as immune system cells.
  • Breast cancer cells can enter lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes.

Most of The Lymph Vessels of The Breast Drain into:

  • Lymph nodes under the arm (axillary nodes).
  • Lymph nodes around the collar bone (supraclavicular and infraclavicular lymph nodes)
  • Lymph nodes inside the chest near the breast bone (internal mammary lymph nodes)

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breast cancer

  • If cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that the cells could have traveled through the lymph system and spread (metastasized) to other parts of your body.
  • The more lymph nodes with breast cancer cells, the more likely it is that the cancer may be found in other organs as well.
  • Because of this, finding cancer in one or more lymph nodes often affects your treatment plan.
  • Usually, surgery to remove one or more lymph nodes will be needed to know whether the cancer has spread.(American Cancer Society)

Still, not all women with cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases, and some women have no cancer cells in their lymph nodes and later develop metastases.

breast cancer

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is an important part of breast health. 
  • Finding breast cancer as early as possible gives you a better chance of successful treatment. 
  • But knowing what to look for does not take the place of having regular mammograms and other screening tests.

Screening tests can help find breast cancer in its early stages, even before any symptoms appear.

1. The most common symptom of breast cancer is:

  • A new lump or mass:

A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded.They can even be painful.

For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass or lump or breast change checked by a health care provider experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.

2. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt).
  • Skin irritation or dimpling.
  • Breast or nipple pain.
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward).
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin.
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk).

Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt. Swollen lymph nodes should also be checked by a health care provider.

Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if you have them, they should be reported to a health care provider so that he or she can find the cause.

Because mammograms do not find every breast cancer, it is important for you to be aware of changes in your breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

What Causes Breast Cancer “Risk Factors”?

So, what is it that causes breast cancer? What are the risk factors? The answer is there are no definite causes of breast cancer as such; the risk factors include:

  • Advancing age and family history of the cancer.
  • Obesity is also one of the risk factors along with regular alcohol use and late marriage.
  • Anyone whose family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer previously is 2-3 times more likely to develop it.
  • Most women develop breast cancer after 50 or menopause.

  • Women diagnosed with certain benign breast conditions have an increased risk of breast cancer. These include atypical hyperplasia, a condition in which there is abnormal proliferation of breast cells but no cancer has developed.
  • Menstruation: Women who started their menstrual cycle at a younger age (before 12) or went through menopause later (after 55) have a slightly increased risk.
  • Breast tissue: Women with dense breast tissue (as documented by mammogram) have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Race: White women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but African-American women tend to have more aggressive tumors when they do develop breast cancer.
  • Exposure to previous chest radiation or use of diethylstilbestrol increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Having no children or the first child after age 30 increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Breastfeeding for one and a half to two years might slightly lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer:

Tests and procedures used to diagnose breast cancer include:

  • Breast exam:

 Your doctor will check both of your breasts and lymph nodes in the armpit, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities.

  • Mammogram:

A. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast.

B. Mammograms are commonly used to screen for breast cancer.

C. If an abnormality is detected on a screening mammogram, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram to further evaluate that abnormality.

  • Breast ultrasound:

A. Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of structures deep within the body.

B. Ultrasound may be used to determine whether a new breast lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst.

  • Removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy):

A. biopsy is the only definitive way to make a diagnosis of breast cancer.

B. Biopsy samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis where experts determine whether the cells are cancerous.

C. A biopsy sample is also analyzed to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer, and whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors or other receptors that may influence your treatment options.

  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):

An MRI machine uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the interior of your breast. Before a breast MRI, you receive an injection of dye.

Staging Breast Cancer:

Once your doctor has diagnosed your breast cancer, he or she works to establish the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer’s stage helps determine your prognosis and the best treatment options.

Complete information about your cancer’s stage may not be available until after you undergo breast cancer surgery.

Tests and procedures used to stage breast cancer may include:

  • Blood tests, such as a complete blood count.
  • Mammogram of the other breast to look for signs of cancer.
  • Breast MRI.
  • Bone scan.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Not all women will need all of these tests and procedures.

  • Your doctor selects the appropriate tests based on your specific circumstances and taking into account new symptoms you may be experiencing.
  • Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV with 0 indicating cancer that is noninvasive or contained within the milk ducts.
  • Stage IV breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.


A. Your doctor determines your breast cancer treatment options based on your type of breast cancer, its stage and grade, size, and whether the cancer cells are sensitive to hormones.Your doctor also considers your overall health and your own preferences.

B. Most women undergo surgery for breast cancer and also receive additional treatment before or after surgery, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation.

There are many options for breast cancer treatment, and you may feel overwhelmed as you make complex decisions about your treatment. Consider seeking a second opinion from a breast specialist in a breast center or clinic. 

 1. Breast Cancer Surgery:

Operations used to treat breast cancer include:

  • Removing the breast cancer (lumpectomy).
  • Removing the entire breast (mastectomy).
  • Removing a limited number of lymph nodes (sentinel node biopsy). 
  • Removing several lymph nodes (axillary lymph node dissection). 
  • Removing both breasts. 

P.S: Most women with breast cancer in one breast will never develop cancer in the other breast. 

2. Radiation Therapy:

  • Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy is typically done using a large machine that aims the energy beams at your body (external beam radiation).
  • But radiation can also be done by placing radioactive material inside your body (brachytherapy).

breast cancer

Side effects of radiation therapy include:

  • fatigue and a red, sunburn-like rash where the radiation is aimed.
  • Breast tissue may also appear swollen or more firm.
  • Rarely, more-serious problems may occur, such as damage to the heart or lungs or, very rarely, second cancers in the treated area.

3. Chemotherapy:

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. If your cancer has a high risk of returning or spreading to another part of your body.
  • Chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery in women with larger breast tumors. The goal is to shrink a tumor to a size that makes it easier to remove with surgery.
  • Chemotherapy is also used in women whose cancer has already spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy side effects depend on the drugs you receive:

  • Common side effects include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and an increased risk of developing infection.
  • Rare side effects can include premature menopause, infertility, damage to the heart and kidneys, nerve damage, and, very rarely, blood cell cancer.

4. Hormone Therapy:

  • Hormone therapy perhaps more properly termed hormone-blocking therapy, is often used to treat breast cancers that are sensitive to hormones. 
  • Hormone therapy can be used before or after surgery or other treatments to decrease the chance of your cancer returning.
  • If the cancer has already spread, hormone therapy may shrink and control it.

Treatments that can be used in hormone therapy include:

  • Medications that block hormones from attaching to cancer cells. 
  • Medications that stop the body from making estrogen after menopause.
  • A drug that targets estrogen receptors for destruction. 
  • Surgery or medications to stop hormone production in the ovaries. 

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5. Alternative Medicine:

No alternative medicine treatments have been found to cure breast cancer. But complementary and alternative medicine therapies may help you cope with side effects of treatment when combined with your doctor’s care.

What Reduces Risk?

  • Researchers have found that regular physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer by half.
  • Exercise can help overcome the aftermaths of the disease and improves quality of life of people with breast cancer.
  • Poor diet and alcohol consumption are also common risk factors as they are directly linked to obesity.
  • The best way to prevent it is to get the breasts examined regularly by a specialist, especially after 30, and get them checked whenever a lump is found in one of the breasts..

People must not fear going to their doctor and getting themselves examined for the fear of being tested positive for breast cancer.

Tests and examinations do not guarantee the presence of cancer; on the contrary, these often cancel the possibility of cancer. Most of the times people are tested negative. So, one should not fear tests, mammograms, or biopsy tests, get oneself checked and live freely.

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Disclaimer: “Nothing in this article makes any claim to offer cures or treatment of any disease or illness. If you are sick please consult with your doctor.”

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