Cells in the body normally divide (reproduce) only when new cells are needed. Sometimes, cells in a part of the body grow and separate from control, which creates a mass of tissue, called a tumor. If the cells growing out of control are normal, the tumor is called malignant (cancerous).
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in a woman. Typically, the cancer forms in either the lobules or the ducts of the breast lobules. Lobules are the gland that produces milk and ducts are the pathways that bring the milk from the glands to the nipple. Cancer can also occur in the fatty tissue and the fibrous connective tissue within the breast. Breast cancer can also occur in both men and women.
The uncontrolled cancer cells often invade other healthy breast tissue and travel to the lymph nodes under the arms. The lymph nodes are a primary pathway that helps the cancer cells more than other parts of the body.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Different people have diff symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Signs of breast cancer
- New lump in the breast or underarm.
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area of the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk can be clear, yellow, brown, or even blood.
- Any changes in the size or shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast that does not go away after menstruation.
Risk factors of breast cancer
- A family history of breast cancer
- Radiation exposure.
- Beginning your period at a younger age.
- Beginning menopause at an older age.
- Having your first child at an older age.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy.
- Drinking alcohol
Types of breast cancer
Breast cancer is mainly categorized into two categories, noninvasive and invasive. Invasive cancer usually spreads from breast ducts or glands to another part of the breast. Noninvasive cancer does not spread from the original tissue.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but agressive type of breast cancer that makes up 1 in 5 percent of all breast cancers. IBC causes the cells to block the lymph nodes near the breasts. Thus, the lymph vessels in the breast cannot drain it properly. It forms a tumor instead in which causes the breast to swell and reddish. With this condition, cells block the lymph nodes near the breasts, so the lymph vessels in the breast can’t correctly drain. Instead of creating a tumor, IBC causes your breast to swell, look red, and feel very warm. A cancerous breast may appear pitted and thick, like an orange peel.
Metastatic breast cancer
Metastatic breast cancer is when breast cancer spreads from the breast to another part of the body, such as lymph, lungs, bones, liver, or brain. This is an advanced stage of breast cancer. The oncologist will create a treatment plan to stop the spread and growth of the tumors.
Triple-negative breast cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer is another rare disease, affecting only about 10 to 15 percent of people with breast cancer.
There are three characteristics of triple-negative breast cancer;
- It lacks estrogen receptors
These are receptors on the cells that bind or attach to the hormone estrogen. If a tumor has estrogen receptors, estrogen can stimulate cancer to grow.
- It lacks progesterone receptors.
These receptors are cells that bind to the hormone progesterone. If a tumor has progesterone receptors, progesterone can stimulate cancer to grow.
- It doesn’t have additional HER2 proteins on its surface.
HER2 is a protein that fuels breast cancer growth.
If a tumor meets these three criteria, it’s labeled a triple-negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer tends to grow and spread more quickly than other types of breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancers are difficult to treat because hormonal therapy for breast cancer is ineffective as a treatment.
Breast cancer stages
Breast cancer can be divided into stages based on the tumor size and how much it has spread.
Cancers that are large and have invaded nearby tissues or organs are at a higher stage than small and still contained cancers in the breast. To stage breast cancer, doctors need to know:
- if the cancer is invasive or noninvasive
- 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 5.
Stage 0 breast cancer
- Stage 0 is DCIS. Cancer cells in DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ) 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 (cm) wide or less, and the lymph nodes are not affected.
- Stage 1B: Cancer is found in nearby lymph nodes, and either there is no tumor in the breast, or the cancer is 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 it’s between 2 and 5 cm and hasn’t 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 it’s larger than 5 cm and hasn’t 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 more significant 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 nine 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 and distant organs.
The testing your doctor does will determine the stage of your breast cancer, which will affect your treatment.
Breast Cancer in Men
Although it is rare, men can get breast cancer. Learn about symptoms of breast cancer in men and things that may increase your risk.
Breast cancer is most often found in women, but men can get breast cancer too. About 1 out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is located in a man.
The most common kinds of breast cancer in men are the same kinds in women
- Invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer cells grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a breast disease that may lead to breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the lining of the ducts and have not spread to other tissues in the breast.
Diagnosis of breast cancer
To determine if your symptoms are caused by breast cancer or a benign breast condition, your doctor will do a thorough physical exam in addition to a breast exam. They may also request one or more diagnostic tests to help understand what’s causing your symptoms.
Tests that can help diagnose breast cancer include:
- Mammogram. The most common way to see below the surface of your breast is with an imaging test called a mammogram. Many women ages 40 and older get annual mammograms to check for breast cancer. If your doctor suspects you may have a tumor or suspicious spot, they will also request a mammogram. If an abnormal area is seen on your mammogram, your doctor may request additional tests.
- Ultrasound. A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the tissues deep in your breast. An ultrasound can help your doctor distinguish between a solid mass, a tumor, and a benign cyst.