Breast Cancer Awareness Month-THINK PINK!

Breast cancer overview

Cancer occurs when changes called mutations take place in genes that regulate cell growth. The mutations let the cells divide and multiply in an uncontrolled, chaotic way. The cells keep multiplying, producing copies that get progressively more abnormal. In most cases, the cell copies eventually form a tumor.

Breast cancer is cancer that develops in breast cells. Typically, the cancer forms in either the lobules or the ducts of the breast. Lobules are the glands that produce milk, and ducts are the pathways that bring the milk from the glands to the nipple. Cancer can also occur in the fatty tissue or the fibrous connective tissue within your breast.

The uncontrolled cancer cells often invade other healthy breast tissue and can travel to the lymph nodes under the arms. The lymph nodes are a primary pathway that helps the cancer cells move to other parts of the body. See pictures and learn more about the structure of the breast.

How common is breast cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. And according to statistics from the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2015. Invasive breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the ducts or glands to other parts of the breast. More than 40,000 women were expected to die from the disease.

Breast cancer can also be diagnosed in men. The ACS also estimated that in 2015, more than 2,000 men would be diagnosed, and more than 400 men would die from the disease. Find out more about breast cancer numbers around the world.

Types of breast cancer

There are several types of breast cancer, which are broken into two main categories: “invasive” (as mentioned above), and “noninvasive,” or in situ. While invasive cancer has spread from the breast ducts or glands to other parts of the breast, noninvasive cancer has not spread from the original tissue.

These two categories are used to describe the most common types of breast cancer, which include:

Ductal carcinoma in situ. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a noninvasive condition. With DCIS, the cells that line the ducts in your breast change and look cancerous. However, DCIS cells haven’t invaded the surrounding breast tissue.

Lobular carcinoma in situ. Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is cancer that grows in the milk-producing glands of your breast. Like DCIS, the cancer cells haven’t yet invaded the surrounding tissue.

Invasive ductal carcinoma. Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of breast cancer. This type of breast cancer begins in your breast’s milk ducts and then invades nearby tissue in the breast. Once the breast cancer has spread to the tissue outside your milk ducts, it can begin to spread to other nearby organs and tissue.

Invasive lobular carcinoma. Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) first develops in your breast’s lobules. If breast cancer is diagnosed as ILC, it has already spread to nearby tissue and organs.

Other, less common types of breast cancer include:

Paget disease of the nipple. This type of breast cancer begins in the breasts’ ducts, but as it grows, it begins to affect the skin and areola of the nipple.

Phyllodes tumor. This very rare type of breast cancer grows in the connective tissue of the breast.

Angiosarcoma. This is cancer that grows on the blood vessels or lymph vessels in the breast.

The type of cancer you have determines your treatment options, as well as your prognosis (likely long-term outcome). Learn more about types of breast cancer.

Risk factors for breast cancer

There are several risk factors that increase your chances of getting breast cancer. However, having any of these doesn’t mean you will definitely develop the disease.

Some risk factors can’t be avoided, such as family history. Other risk factors, such as smoking, you can change. Risk factors for breast cancer include:

Age. Your risk for developing breast cancer increases as you age. Most invasive breast cancers are found in women over age 55.

Drinking alcohol. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol raises your risk.

Having dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue makes mammograms hard to read. It also increases your risk of breast cancer.

Gender. Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men.

Genes. Women who have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t. Other gene mutations may also affect your risk.

Early menstruation. If you had your first period before age 12, you have an increased risk for breast cancer.

Giving birth at an older age. Women who don’t have their first child until after age 35 have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Hormone therapy. Women who took or are taking postmenopausal estrogen and progesterone medications to reduce their signs of menopause symptoms have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Inherited risk. If a close female relative has had breast cancer, you have an increased risk for developing it. This includes your mother, grandmother, sister, or daughter. If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, you can still develop breast cancer. In fact, the majority of women who develop it have no family history of the disease.

Late menopause start. Women who do not start menopause until after age 55 are more likely to develop breast cancer.

Never being pregnant. Women who never became pregnant or never carried a pregnancy to full-term are more likely to develop breast cancer.

Previous breast cancer. If you have had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in your other breast or in a different area of the previously affected breast.

SYMPTOMS

Breast cancer symptoms

In its early stages, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. In many cases, a tumor may be too small to be felt, but an abnormality can still be seen on a mammogram. If a tumor can be felt, the first sign is usually a new lump in the breast that was not there before. However, not all lumps are cancer.

Each type of breast cancer can cause a variety of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are similar, but some can be different. Symptoms for the most common breast cancers include:

a breast lump or tissue thickening that feels different than surrounding tissue and has developed recently

breast pain

red, pitted skin over your entire breast

swelling in all or part of your breast

a nipple discharge other than breast milk

bloody discharge from your nipple

peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on your nipple or breast

a sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of your breast

inverted nipple

changes to the appearance of the skin on your breasts

a lump or swelling under your arm

If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. For instance, pain in your breast or a breast lump can be caused by a breast cyst. Still, if you find a lump in your breast or have other symptoms, you should see your doctor for further examination and testing. Learn more about possible symptoms of breast cancer.

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