Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. It is the second most common cancer among women worldwide and can also occur in men, although it is rare.
Here are some important things to know about breast cancer:
- Symptoms: The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area. Other symptoms may include changes in the size or shape of the breast, nipple discharge, or changes in the skin over the breast.
- Risk factors: Several factors can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, including being a woman, aging, family history of breast cancer, personal history of breast cancer, certain genetic mutations, obesity, alcohol consumption, and radiation exposure.
- Screening: Early detection of breast cancer is crucial for successful treatment. Women should start getting regular mammograms at age 50, or earlier if they have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Diagnosis: If a lump or suspicious area is detected during a mammogram, further testing may be required, such as a biopsy, to determine if it is cancerous.
- Treatment: Treatment for breast cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy. The specific treatment plan will depend on the type and stage of breast cancer.
- Prognosis: The prognosis for breast cancer varies depending on several factors, including the stage and type of cancer, age of the person, and overall health status. Early detection and treatment can greatly improve the chances of survival.
- Prevention: Although it may not be possible to prevent breast cancer entirely, certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk, such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding radiation exposure. Some women with a high risk of breast cancer may also consider preventive measures, such as medication or surgery.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast. Other possible symptoms include:
- Swelling or thickening in the part of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit
It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than breast cancer. However, if you notice any changes in your breast or experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor for further evaluation.
Several factors can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Some of the most common risk factors include:
- Gender: Breast cancer is much more common in women than in men.
- Age: The risk of breast cancer increases as a person gets older. Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.
- Family history: Women who have a first-degree relative (such as a mother, sister, or daughter) who has had breast cancer are at higher risk.
- Personal history: Women who have had breast cancer in one breast are at increased risk of developing it in the other breast or developing new cancer in the same breast.
- Genetic mutations: Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes greatly increase the risk of breast cancer. Other genetic mutations may also increase the risk to a lesser extent.
- Dense breast tissue: Women with dense breast tissue may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone factors: Women who started menstruating at an early age, experienced menopause at a later age, or have taken hormone therapy for long periods may be at increased risk.
- Lifestyle factors: Factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking may also increase the risk of breast cancer.
It’s important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean a person will develop breast cancer, and many women with breast cancer have no known risk factors. Regular screening and early detection are important for all women, regardless of their risk factors.
Breast cancer screening is the process of checking for signs of breast cancer before any symptoms develop. Regular screening can help detect breast cancer early when it is most treatable.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following breast cancer screening guidelines for women at average risk:
- Women between ages 40 and 44 have the option to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (X-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
- Women between the ages of 45 and 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older can switch to mammograms every 2 years or can choose to continue yearly screening.
- Women with a personal or family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation that increases their risk of breast cancer, or other high-risk factors may need to start screening earlier and/or have additional tests, such as breast MRI.
It’s important to discuss your risk factors and screening options with your doctor. Mammography is currently the most effective screening tool for breast cancer, but other tests, such as breast MRI or ultrasound, may be recommended in certain cases.
If a lump or suspicious area is detected during a mammogram or other screening test, further testing may be needed to determine whether or not it is cancerous. The following are some common diagnostic tests for breast cancer:
- Diagnostic mammogram: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can help identify abnormalities such as lumps or calcifications. A diagnostic mammogram is similar to a screening mammogram, but it is focused on a specific area of the breast and uses more detailed imaging techniques.
- Breast ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the breast tissue. It can help distinguish between solid lumps and fluid-filled cysts.
- Breast MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the breast tissue. It may be recommended for women at high risk of breast cancer or to further evaluate suspicious findings on a mammogram or ultrasound.
- Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing a small amount of tissue from the breast for examination under a microscope. There are several types of biopsies, including fine-needle aspiration biopsy, core needle biopsy, and surgical biopsy.
If the biopsy confirms the presence of breast cancer, further tests may be needed to determine the stage of cancer and the best treatment options. This may include additional imaging tests such as a PET scan or CT scan, as well as blood tests and a physical exam.
The treatment options for breast cancer depend on several factors, including the stage and type of cancer, as well as the woman’s overall health and personal preferences. Some common treatments for breast cancer include:
- Surgery: Surgery is often the first step in treating breast cancer. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, a lumpectomy (removal of the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue) or a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) may be recommended.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be recommended after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the breast or lymph nodes.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given before or after surgery, or in combination with radiation therapy.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is used to treat breast cancers that are hormone receptor-positive, meaning they rely on hormones to grow. It can include medications that block the effects of estrogen or lower estrogen levels in the body.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses drugs that target specific proteins in cancer cells to stop them from growing and spreading.
- Clinical trials: Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments for breast cancer. Women who participate in clinical trials may have access to new treatments that are not yet widely available.
Treatment for breast cancer may involve one or more of these approaches, and the treatment plan may change over time as cancer responds to therapy. It’s important to work with a team of doctors who specialize in breast cancer treatment to develop a personalized treatment plan.
The prognosis for breast cancer depends on several factors, including the stage and type of cancer, the woman’s age and overall health, and the effectiveness of the treatment.
In general, early-stage breast cancer (stages 0, I, and II) has a good prognosis, with a five-year survival rate of around 90%. For women with stage III or IV breast cancer, the prognosis is generally less favorable but advances in treatment have improved survival rates in recent years.
Other factors that can affect the prognosis include:
- Hormone receptor status: Breast cancers that are hormone receptor-positive tend to have a better prognosis than those that are hormone receptor-negative.
- HER2 status: Breast cancers that are HER2-positive tend to grow and spread more quickly, but targeted therapy has improved the prognosis for women with this type of cancer.
- Age: Younger women tend to have a more aggressive form of breast cancer, but are often more responsive to treatment.
- Grade: The grade of the cancer is a measure of how abnormal the cells look under a microscope. Higher-grade cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly and have a worse prognosis.
- Lymph node involvement: Breast cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes have a higher risk of recurrence and a worse prognosis.
It’s important to note that every woman’s situation is unique, and prognosis can vary widely even among women with the same stage and type of cancer. Talk to your doctor about your prognosis and what steps you can take to improve it.
There is no surefire way to prevent breast cancer, but there are several steps women can take to reduce their risk. Some of these include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause.
- Staying physically active: Regular exercise has been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer, as well as other types of cancer.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help lower the risk of breast cancer. Avoiding excessive alcohol intake is also important, as alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed their children may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, especially if they breastfeed for a year or more.
- Limiting hormone therapy: Hormone therapy that combines estrogen and progestin to treat menopausal symptoms has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Women who choose to use hormone therapy should do so at the lowest dose and for the shortest time possible.
- Regular screening: Early detection is key in treating breast cancer, so women should follow recommended screening guidelines and talk to their doctor if they notice any changes in their breasts.
It’s important to note that while these steps can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, they cannot guarantee that a woman will not develop the disease. Women who are at high risk of breast cancer due to factors such as a family history of the disease may need to take additional steps, such as more frequent screening or preventive medications.