Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women worldwide. It affects 12% of women at some point in their lifetime, and 1 in 8 will die from it. While there are numerous treatments to help breast cancer victims, there are also things you can do to prevent it from occurring at all. Here’s everything you need to know about breast cancer, including how you can protect yourself against it and what symptoms to look out for if you think something might be wrong with your breasts.
What Is It?
Breast cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the breast tissue divide without control and can spread into surrounding tissues, lymph nodes, and elsewhere in the body. It’s often treatable when diagnosed early. But if it spreads beyond its original site, or if it returns after treatment, a cure may not be possible.
The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which originates in a milk duct. Another type is lobular carcinoma, which starts in a milk-producing gland called a lobule.
in invasive breast cancer, cancerous cells may spread to the tissue surrounding the cancerous lump, making it likely for cancer to spread to other parts of the body.
noninvasive breast cancer remains in its location and typically may never spread.
A doctor’s diagnosis of cancer is based on how large the tumor is and whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
There are many different ways to diagnose breast cancer. Some of them include stages 0-4, with many subdivisions among these stages. Below, we briefly outline each of these main stages. Certain substages can indicate more specific characteristics of a tumor, such as its HER2 receptor status.
Stage 0: This is also called ductal carcinoma in situ. The cancerous cells are only within the ducts and have not spread to surrounding tissues.
Stage 1: At this stage, the tumor measures up to 2 centimeters (cm) across. It has not affected any lymph nodes, or there are small groups of cancer cells in the lymph nodes.
Stage 2: The tumor is 2 cm across and has started to spread to nearby nodes, or it is 2–5 cm across and has not spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage 3: The tumor is up to 5 cm across and has spread to several lymph nodes, or the tumor is larger than 5 cm and has spread to a few lymph nodes.
Stage 4: Cancer has spread to distant organs, most often the bones, liver, brain, or lungs.
How Common Is It?
Experts say that one in eight women will develop breast cancer over their lifetime. So how common is it, really? This question is difficult to answer because it depends on a variety of factors, including what kind of cancer we’re talking about (invasive or non-invasive), where you live, and your genetic makeup. The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, followed by lobular carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.
However, a study from 2019 showed that the rate for females in the United States has stabilized, but not increased.
According to the American Cancer Society, they state that
a little more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors are currently living in the United States.
The likelihood of a person’s death from breast cancer is 2.6%.
According to reports, about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will crop up by the end of 2021.
On the higher end, more than 43,600 people with breast cancer are expected to die by the end of 2021.
If people are aware of the symptoms and that they need to be screened, they have a lower risk of mortality.
Early Detection Can Save Lives
Typically, the first symptom of breast cancer is the detection of an abnormal mass or thickening in the breast, an armpit, or surrounding tissue.
Other symptoms include
- armpit or breast pain does not change with the monthly cycle
- pitting, like the surface of an orange, or color changes such as redness in the skin of the breast
- a rash around or on one nipple
- discharge from a nipple, which may contain blood
- a sunken or inverted nipple
- a change in the size or shape of the breast
- peeling, flaking, or scaling of the skin of the breast or nipple
- Most breast lumps are not cancerous. However, anyone who notices a breast lump should have it checked by a healthcare professional.
There are several factors that make the chances of developing breast cancer higher, and some of these are preventable.
Younger women are at less risk of developing breast cancer than older women. By the time they’re 20, the chance is just 0.06%. After the age of 70, this figure increases to 3.84%.
- Individuals with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher chance of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or both. These people inherit these genes.
- Mutations in the TP53 gene also appear to be related to a heightened risk of breast cancer.
- Those who have close relatives with breast cancer have a greater chance of developing breast cancer themselves.
- The specialists say that if there is a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer, a person should have genetic testing.
- That is, people should get this test, as the guidelines recommend when there is a history of breast cancer related to BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations in their ancestry.
History of breast cancer or breast lumps
Someone who has previously had breast cancer is more likely to develop it again than someone without a history of the disease.
Having certain types of noncancerous breast growths increase the likelihood of developing cancer in the future. Examples include atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ.
Persons with a history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer may want to consult their physicians about genetic testing.
Dense breast tissue
There is a higher risk of breast cancer when dense breast tissue is present.
Older, obese women may be more likely to get breast cancer because of increased estrogen levels and a high sugar intake.
Consumption of alcohol
The frequency of consuming large amounts of alcohol is related to developing breast cancer.
Studies show that for some reason, women who drink alcohol have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who do not. And the ones who drink alcohol in moderate to heavy amounts have a greater risk than women who drink less.
How Is It Treated?
For women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is important that they learn how their particular type of cancer is treated. In most cases, treatment will include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The extent of these treatments depends on a number of factors, including what stage (or size) a tumor is in when it’s discovered; your age and overall health; whether or not you’ve had children, and if so how many.
The major treatment options include:
Radiation therapy– For 1 month after surgery, a person might undergo radiation therapy to target the tumor and eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
Surgery – Surgery is an option if no other alternatives work, and will be different depending on the diagnosis and the individual’s preferences. Types of surgery are
- Lumpectomy – entails removing the tumor as well as some healthy tissue.
A lumpectomy can prevent the spread of cancer and is a viable option for smaller tumors that are easy to isolate from surrounding tissue.
- Mastectomy – A simple mastectomy involves removing breast tissue such as breast cells, ducts, fatty tissue, nipple, areola, and some skin. In some types, the surgeon also removes lymph nodes and muscle tissue in the chest wall.
- Sentinel node biopsy – If breast cancer spreads to the sentinel lymph nodes, it can travel to other parts of the body. In the absence of cancer in the sentinel nodes, the patient does not have to remove other nodes.
Biological therapy, or targeted drug therapy– There are a number of targeted drugs which are developed to fight against specific types of breast cancer. Some examples are
- Herceptin (a medication)
- tykerb (lapatinib)
- the trade name for this drug is bevacizumab (Avastin).
Not all cancer treatments have adverse effects, but treatments for breast cancer and other types of cancer can. Consult with a doctor to see which side effects are the worst and see if any methods to reduce them exist.
Hormone therapy – Doctors can prevent hormone-sensitive breast cancers from returning after treatment by using hormone-blocking therapy. The therapy may help treat estrogen receptor-positive and progesterone receptor-positive cancers.
Healthcare professionals generally administer it post-surgery, but it can be administered before surgery to shrink the tumor.
Chemotherapy – If a person is at a high risk of the cancer returning or spreading, a doctor may prescribe chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
Sometimes, a doctor may recommend that someone receive chemotherapy prior to surgery in order to reduce the size of the tumor and make it easier to remove. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
Survival Rates Are Higher Than Ever
While there are many myths about breast cancer, one of its biggest hurdles has been the perception that it’s an old woman’s disease. However, that misconception couldn’t be further from reality. Today, more women under age 50 are being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before—and many are beating their odds of survival due to new developments in research and technology.
Based on current statistics, 90% of females with breast cancer survive for at least five years after diagnosis.
When talking about a population’s survival rate, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re taking into account other risks of death in the same calculation.
This survival rate cannot be taken as indicative of one person’s prognosis. Individuals do not necessarily respond to treatment in the same way.