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Breast Cancer: Causes, Stages, Symptoms & More

Medikoe Health Expert

Medikoe Health Expert

  Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru     Feb 9, 2017

   7 min     


Do you know that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer? It is the most common cancer in women after skin cancer.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. Sometimes, cells in the breast change and no longer grow or behave normally, leading to non-cancerous or benign breast conditions such as atypical hyperplasia and cysts. They can also cause non-cancerous tumors such as intraductal papillomas. But in some cases, changes occurring in the breast cells can cause breast cancer.

A tumor can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). If left unchecked, malignant cells eventually spread beyond the original tumor area to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer either forms in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple. Sometimes, breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissues, which include the fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast.

Breast cancer is mostly caused by a genetic abnormality (a "mistake" in the genetic material). However, only 5% to 10% of cancers are due to a defect inherited from either parent. Instead, 85% to 90% of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that happen as a result of the ageing process and the stress of life in general.

Breast Cancer Causes

The precise causes of breast cancer are unknown, but certain risk factors are evident. Well, the main risks include breast cancer in family medical history and being older. And, this risk usually goes up for women with specific types of benign lumps in the breast and women who have had ovarian cancer. Thus, if you have had breast cancer, you can develop it again. 

Stages of Breast Cancer

Stage 0 & 1: It represents the earliest detection of breast cancer development. In this stage, the cancer cells are confined to a minimal area. They are also called carcinoma in situ. In this stage, the abnormal cells have been found in the lining of the breast milk duct.

Stage 2: In this stage, breast cancer is growing, but it is still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes. It is divided into two stages, Stage 2A, and stage 2B and the size of the tumor determines it.

Stage 3: In this stage, breast cancer has extended beyond the immediate region of the tumor and may have invaded nearby lymph nodes and muscles, but not to distant organs. This stage is divided into three groups, Stage 3A, Stage 3B, and stage 3C.

Stage 4: In this stage, cancer has spread to other areas of the body, such as the brain, bones, lungs, and liver. It is considered incurable, but women are living longer by treating the disease as a chronic condition. 

Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer

If you experience any one of the symptoms mentioned below, we suggest you consult with your healthcare specialist at the earliest:

  • Skin changes like irritation, swelling, redness, puckering, dimpling, or other visible differences in one or both breasts

  • An increase or change in the size or shape of the breasts

  • Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples

  • Nipple discharge (bloody) other than breast milk that occurs suddenly

  • Persistent pain in any part of the chest/breast

  • Lumps inside the breast that feels like a hard knot

  • A thickening of the breast tissue

  • A lump in the underarm area

  • A retracted or inwardly turned nipple turned or a sore in the nipple area

  • Warm, red, swollen breasts with or without a rash with dimpling resembling the skin of an orange, called "peau d' orange."

Screening, Detection, & Diagnosis of Breast Cancer 

If you are wondering how to check for breast cancer, the following are the ways that can help in its early detection. Some of these ways are:

Clinical breast exams: A clinical breast exam (CBE) is performed by the clinician or other healthcare specialist and involves a systematic examination of the breast skin and tissue. The professional looks for any signs and symptoms like lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk.

Breast self-exams: A breast self-exam (BSE) is performed by the woman herself and involves a similar examination as the CBE of the breast skin and tissue-based on palpations by her hands. The woman has to examine the look and the feel of her breasts as well as any signs, symptoms or changes to the breasts.

Mammography: A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that uses deficient levels of radiation to examine the changes in the breasts. The images capture calcifications (benign) and masses, which include benign, fluid-filled cysts, benign solid tumors and cancer. To confirm that an abnormal mass is a cancer, a biopsy is undertaken and maybe a fine-needle biopsy, core biopsy or surgical biopsy. If breast cancer is detected early then there are more chances of cure.

Breast ultrasound: Ultrasound is a method that uses sound waves to make images to determine if the lump present in the breast is a solid mass (which can be cancerous) or a fluid-filled cyst.

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): It is an imaging test which uses radiation to create the images to detect any abnormalities in the breasts.

Women who have a family history of breast cancer are at high risk and should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Others should also get at least a yearly mammogram done.

Breast Cancer Treatments 

Your doctor will plan your treatment by taking into consideration many factors, such as your age, general health, the severity/ stage of cancer, etc. Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: Here drugs are used to kill the cancerous (fast-dividing) cells.

  • Surgery: The cancerous cells (tumors) are surgically removed.

  • Radiotherapy: Radiation is used to destroy the cancerous cells.

  • Hormone therapy: It is a treatment for breast cancer that is sensitive to hormones. It works by blocking the hormones from attaching to the receptors on the cancer cells or by eradicating the body's production of hormones.

Breast cancer deaths have drastically reduced due to growing awareness in the past few years. However, it is essential that if you experience even mild symptoms, do consult a doctor as early as possible. Remember that breast cancer is a disease just like any other and regardless of the stigma around it, there should be no shame or guilt experienced while seeking help.

Breast Cancer Recurrence

Every woman who has had breast cancer wonders whether it will develop again. Well, for some women it does come back, while for others it does not. When breast cancer comes back in a woman, it is referred to as recurrence.

It may recur at any time, or it will recur not at all. But, in most cases, the recurrence usually happens in the initial five years after the treatment of breast cancer. In some cases, breast cancer can recur as a local recurrence or somewhere else in the body. Some of the sites where the repetition of this cancer can occur include bones, liver, brain, lungs, and lymph nodes.

Things You Must Learn 

Make sure that you keep doing the self-examination of your breasts and check the area each month, that was previously treated. If you notice any changes, tell your doctor right away. 

Talk to your doctor for more information. You can even find one here on Medikoe. Find an experienced and certified healthcare specialist near you on Medikoe answer all your questions.

Tags:  cancer,women's health,breast cancer, breast tumor, breast tumour, women health, cancer, tumour

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