What Is Breast Cancer?

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  • What Is Breast Cancer?

Like all forms of cancer, breast cancer is made of unusual cells that grow out of control. Those cells may also travel to places in your body where they aren’t usually found. When that happens, the cancer is called metastatic.

Breast cancer usually begins either in your glands that make milk (called lobular carcinoma), or the ducts that carry it to the nipple (called ductal carcinoma). It can grow larger in your breast and spread to nearby lymph nodes or through your bloodstream to other organs. The cancer may grow and invade tissue around your breast, such as your skin or chest wall.

Different types of breast cancer grow and spread at different rates. Some take years to spread beyond your breast, while others grow and spread quickly.

Who Gets Breast Cancer?

Among women, breast cancer is the most second most common cancer diagnosed and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, after lung cancer. Men can get breast cancer too, but they account for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.

On average, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes. About two-thirds of women with breast cancer are 55 or older. Most of the rest are between 35 and 54.

Fortunately, breast cancer is very treatable if you spot it early. Localized cancer (meaning it hasn’t spread outside your breast) can usually be treated before it spreads.

Once the cancer begins to spread, treatment becomes more complicated. It can often control the disease for years.

The symptoms of breast cancer include:

A lump or thickened area in or near your breast or underarm that lasts through your period

A mass or lump, even if it feels as small as a pea

A change in your breast’s size, shape, or curve

Nipple discharge that can be bloody or clear

Changes in the skin of your breast or your nipple. It could be dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed.

Red skin on your breast or nipple

Changes in the shape or position of your nipple

An area that’s different from any other area on either breast

A hard, marble-sized spot under your skin

Causes and Risk Factors

Your age, genetic factors, personal health history, and diet all play a role. Some you can control; others you can’t.


If you feel a lump or if something shows up on a mammogram,your doctor will begin the breast cancer diagnosis process.

After a detailed history and clinical examination, doctor may order tests that include:

  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to make a picture of your breast.
  • Mammogram. This detailed X-ray gives doctors a better view of lumps and other problems.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This body scan uses a magnet linked to a computer to create detailed images of the insides of your breasts.
  • Biopsy. For this test, the doctor removes tissue or fluid from your breast.
  • Blood tests

Breast Cancer Stages

  • Early stage, stage 0, or noninvasive breast cancer. The disease is only in the breast, with no signs that it’s spread to the lymph nodes (your doctor will call this carcinoma in situ).
  • Stage I breast cancer. The cancer is 2 centimeters or less in size and hasn’t spread.
  • Stage IIA breast cancer. The tumor is:
    • Smaller than 2 centimeters across, with underarm lymph node involvement.
    • Larger than 2 but less than 5 centimeters across, without lymph node involvement.
  • Stage IIB breast cancer. A tumor that’s:
    • Larger than 5 centimeters across, without underarm lymph node involvement
    • Larger than 2 but less than 5 centimeters across, with lymph node involvement.
  • Stage IIIA breast cancer or locally advanced breast cancer:
    • A tumor larger than 5 centimeters that has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone.
    • Any size tumor with cancerous lymph nodes that stick to one another or nearby tissue.
  • Stage IIIB breast cancer. A tumor of any size that has spread to the skin or chest wall.
  • Stage IIIC breast cancer. A tumor of any size that has spread farther and involves more lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. A tumor, regardless of size, that has spread to places far away from the breast, such as bones, lungs, liver, brain, or distant lymph nodes.


Local treatments:



·       Breast-conserving surgery- The surgeon removes only the part of the breast with the cancer, along with some nearby tissue.

·       Surgery to remove lymph nodes.

·       Mastectomy- surgeon removes the entire breast



Whether you get it and what type depends on the type of surgery you had, if your cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or somewhere else in your body, the size of your tumor, and sometimes, your age.

·       External beam radiation- This type comes from a machine outside your body. You generally get it 5 days a week for 3 to 5 weeks.

·       Brachytherapy- interstitial or intracavitory.


Systemic treatments

They destroy or control cancer cells all over your body. These treatments include:

·       Chemotherapy: before or after surgery

·       Hormonal therapy

·       Immunotherapy


Breast Cancer Prevention

These tips may help you prevent breast cancer:

  • Control your weight. Extra pounds and weight gain as an adult raise your odds for breast cancer after menopause.
  • Stay active. Exercise lowers your risk. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of heavy activity each week (or a mix). Spread it out during the week.
  • Limit or skip alcohol. Experts recommend that women have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day. That’s 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).
  • Breastfeed. Longer is better to lower your risk.
  • Limit hormone therapy after menopause. Ask your doctor about non-hormonal options to treat your symptoms.
  • Get screened. Recommendations vary by age and risk and other factors. Some of the most recent include:
  • U.S. Preventative Services Task Force:
  • 40-49: Get a mammogram every 2 years if you and your doctor think you need it.
  • 50-74: Get a mammogram every 2 years.
  • 75+: Ask your doctor if you should continue getting mammograms.

American Cancer Society:

40-44: Get an annual mammogram if you and your doctor think you need it.

45-54: Get an annual mammogram.

55-74: Get a mammogram every 1 or 2 years.

75+: Get a mammogram every year so long as you’re in good health and expected to live 10 years or more.

Management if you’re at high risk

If you have one of the risk factors for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about some things that may help lower your odds.

These include:

  • Genetic testing to look for a change in your genes that raises your risk
  • More frequent doctor visits and screening tests
  • Medicines such as raloxifene, tamoxifen, and aromatase inhibitors
  • Surgery to remove your breasts or ovaries

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