Health

Breast Cancer 101: Causes and Treatments.

Breast cancer is a disease that affects the cells in the breast tissue. It is one of the most common types of cancer among women, but it can also affect men. The survival rate and prognosis of it depends on so many factors. 

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease that occurs when the cells in the breast tissue grow out of control and form a tumor. A tumor can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A benign tumor does not spread to other parts of the body and usually does not cause serious problems. A malignant tumor can invade nearby tissues and organs and can spread to distant parts of the body through the blood or lymph vessels. This process is called metastasis. 

When Breast Cancer Spreads It’s Still Breast Cancer.

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still called breast cancer, not by the name of the organ where it is found. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lungs, it is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer.

Types Of Breast Cancer.

  • Ductal carcinoma: This is the most common type of breast cancer. It starts in the cells that line the ducts, which are the tubes that carry milk from the lobules (the milk-producing glands) to the nipple. Ductal carcinoma can be in situ (DCIS) or invasive (IDC). DCIS means that the cancer cells are still inside the duct and have not spread to the surrounding tissue. IDC means that the cancer cells have broken through the duct wall and have invaded the surrounding tissue. IDC can also spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
  • Lobular carcinoma: This is the second most common type of breast cancer. It starts in the cells that make up the lobules. Lobular carcinoma can also be in situ (LCIS) or invasive (ILC). LCIS means that the cancer cells are still inside the lobule and have not spread to the surrounding tissue. LCIS is not a true cancer, but a risk factor for developing invasive breast cancer in the future. ILC means that the cancer cells have broken through the lobule wall and have invaded the surrounding tissue. ILC can also spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
  • Other types: There are other less common types of breast cancer, such as inflammatory breast cancer, Paget’s disease of the nipple, phyllodes tumor, angiosarcoma, and triple-negative breast cancer. They all have different features, symptoms, and treatments than the more common types.

How Does Breast Cancer Happen?

  • Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 50 years old, but younger women can also get breast cancer.
  • Gender: Women are much more likely to get breast cancer than men, but men can also get breast cancer. About 1 in 8 women and 1 in 833 men will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Family history: Having a close relative, such as a mother, sister, or daughter, who had breast cancer can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. This is especially true if the relative was diagnosed before the age of 50, or if they had breast cancer in both breasts, or if they had ovarian cancer. Having a male relative, such as a father, brother, or son, who had breast cancer can also increase the risk.
  • Genetics: Having certain changes or mutations in the genes that are involved in the control of cell growth and repair can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. The most common genes that are linked to breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2, but there are other genes that can also increase the risk. People who have these gene mutations can inherit them from either parent, and can pass them on to their children. People who have these gene mutations have a higher risk of developing breast cancer at a younger age, and of developing other types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, or pancreatic cancer.
  • Hormones: Having higher levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. These hormones are produced by the ovaries and other organs, and they affect the growth and development of the breast tissue. Some factors that can affect the hormone levels are:
  1. Menstrual cycle: Women who started their periods before the age of 12 or who went through menopause after the age of 55 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, because they have been exposed to estrogen and progesterone for a longer time.
  2. Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Women who have never been pregnant or who had their first pregnancy after the age of 30 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, because they have not had the protective effects of pregnancy and breastfeeding on the breast tissue. Women who have had one or more pregnancies and who have breastfed for at least a year have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, because they have had less exposure to estrogen and progesterone and more changes in the breast tissue that make it less susceptible to cancer.
  3. Hormone therapy: Women who have taken hormone therapy for menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes or vaginal dryness, have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, especially if they have taken a combination of estrogen and progestin for more than five years. Women who have taken only estrogen for menopause symptoms have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, but a higher risk of developing other health problems, such as stroke or blood clots. Women who have taken hormone therapy for other reasons, such as birth control or infertility, have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, but the risk will vary depending on the type, dose, and duration of the hormone therapy.
  • Lifestyle: Having certain habits or behaviors can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. These include:
  1. Alcohol: it can increase the levels of estrogen and other hormones in the body, and can also damage the DNA in the cells. The more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk. Women who drink more than one drink per day have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all.
  2. Smoking: it can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, because smoking can introduce harmful chemicals into the body, and can also affect the hormone levels and the immune system. The risk is higher for women who started smoking before their first pregnancy, and for women who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day.
  3. Weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, especially after menopause, because fat tissue can produce estrogen and other hormones that can stimulate the growth of breast cells. The risk is higher for women who gain weight as adults, and for women who have more fat around the waist than around the hips.
  4. Physical activity: Being physically inactive can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, because physical activity can help regulate the hormone levels, lower the insulin levels, and boost the immune system. The risk is lower for women who do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.
  5. Diet: Eating an unhealthy diet can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, because some foods can affect the hormone levels, the inflammation, and the oxidative stress in the body. The risk is higher for women who eat a lot of red meat, processed meat, saturated fat, trans fat, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars, and who eat less of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber.

How to Treat Breast Cancer?

  • Surgery: is the removal of the tumor and some surrounding tissue from the breast. Surgery can be either breast-conserving or mastectomy. Breast-conserving surgery is the removal of only the part of the breast that contains the tumor, and it is usually followed by radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast, and it may or may not be followed by radiation therapy. Sometimes, surgery also involves the removal of some or all of the lymph nodes under the arm, to check if the cancer has spread. Surgery can also be combined with breast reconstruction, which is the rebuilding of the shape and appearance of the breast using implants or tissue from another part of the body.
  • Radiation therapy: is the use of high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be either external or internal. External radiation therapy is the delivery of radiation from a machine outside the body, and it is usually given after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back. Internal radiation therapy is the placement of radioactive materials inside or near the tumor, and it is usually given for tumors that are hard to reach or remove by surgery. Radiation therapy can cause side effects, such as skin changes, fatigue, nausea, or lymphedema (swelling of the arm).
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given by mouth, injection, or infusion. Chemotherapy can be given before surgery to shrink the tumor, after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back, or for advanced or metastatic breast cancer to control the growth and spread of the cancer. Chemotherapy can cause side effects, such as hair loss, mouth sores, infection, anemia, or neuropathy (nerve damage).
  • Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is the use of drugs to block or lower the levels of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, that can stimulate the growth of some breast cancers. Hormone therapy can be given by mouth, injection, or implant. Hormone therapy can be given after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back, or for advanced or metastatic breast cancer to control the growth and spread of the cancer. Hormone therapy can cause side effects, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weight gain, or osteoporosis (bone loss).
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is the use of drugs to target specific features or markers of the cancer cells, such as proteins or genes, that make them different from normal cells. Targeted therapy can be given by mouth, injection, or infusion. Targeted therapy can be given alone or in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Targeted therapy can cause side effects, such as skin rash, diarrhea, or allergic reactions.

The Key Takeaway.

Breast cancer is a disease that affects the cells in the breast tissue. It has different types, causes, and treatments, depending on the characteristics of the cancer and the patient. Breast cancer affects many people, but it can be treated with different methods, depending on the type, stage, and characteristics of the breast cancer, as well as the patient’s preferences and total health.

FAQs On Breast Cancer.

What is the rarest type of breast cancer?

The rarest type of breast cancer is angiosarcoma, which is a cancer that starts in the cells that line the blood vessels or lymph vessels. Angiosarcoma can occur anywhere in the body, but it is very rare in the breast. Angiosarcoma can be primary, meaning it starts in the breast, or secondary, meaning it starts somewhere else and spreads to the breast. Secondary angiosarcoma is more common than primary angiosarcoma, and it can be caused by previous radiation therapy or lymphedema (swelling of the arm) after breast cancer treatment.

What is the most aggressive type of breast cancer?

The most aggressive type of breast cancer is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), which is a rare and fast-growing cancer that causes the breast to become red, swollen, and warm. IBC can spread quickly to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body, and it often does not cause a lump that can be felt or seen on a mammogram. IBC has a poorer prognosis than other types of breast cancer, and it requires intensive treatment with chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and targeted therapy.

What is the most common type of breast cancer in men?

The most common type of breast cancer in men is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which is the same type that most women have. IDC starts in the cells that line the ducts, which are the tubes that carry milk from the lobules (the milk-producing glands) to the nipple. IDC can spread to the surrounding tissue, the lymph nodes, and other parts of the body. Men can also have other types of breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma, or Paget’s disease of the nipple, but they are less common than IDC.

What is the difference between triple-negative and triple-positive breast cancer?

Triple-negative and triple-positive breast cancer are terms that describe the status of three receptors on the surface of the breast cancer cells: estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). These receptors can affect the growth and behavior of the cancer cells, and they can also be targeted by specific drugs. Triple-negative breast cancer means that the cancer cells do not have any of these receptors, and triple-positive breast cancer means that the cancer cells have all of these receptors. Triple-negative breast cancer tends to be more aggressive, more likely to recur, and more difficult to treat than triple-positive breast cancer, because it does not respond to hormone therapy or HER2-targeted therapy.

What is the difference between stage and grade of breast cancer?

Stage and grade of breast cancer are two ways of describing how advanced and how aggressive the cancer is. Stage refers to the size and extent of the tumor, and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Stage is usually expressed in Roman numerals from I to IV, with higher numbers indicating more advanced cancer. Grade refers to how abnormal and how fast-growing the cancer cells are, and how likely they are to spread. Grade is usually expressed in numbers from 1 to 3, with higher numbers indicating more aggressive cancer.

What is the difference between lumpectomy and mastectomy?

Lumpectomy and mastectomy are two types of surgery for breast cancer. Lumpectomy is the removal of only the part of the breast that contains the tumor, and it is usually followed by radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast, and it may or may not be followed by radiation therapy. Sometimes, mastectomy also involves the removal of some or all of the lymph nodes under the arm, to check if the cancer has spread. Lumpectomy and mastectomy have similar survival rates for early-stage breast cancer, but they have different cosmetic and psychological effects. The choice of surgery depends on the size, location, and type of the tumor, as well as the patient’s preferences and total health.

What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer recurrence?

Breast cancer recurrence means that the cancer has come back after the initial treatment. Breast cancer can recur in the same place as the original tumor (local recurrence), in the nearby lymph nodes or tissues (regional recurrence), or in distant organs (distant recurrence or metastasis). The signs and symptoms of breast cancer recurrence depend on where the cancer has recurred, and they may include:

  • A lump or thickening in the breast or chest wall.
  • Changes in the skin or nipple of the breast.
  • Swelling or pain in the arm or chest.
  • Shortness of breath, cough, or chest pain:
  • Bone pain or fractures.
  • Abdominal pain, jaundice, or loss of appetite.
  • Headache, dizziness, or seizures.
  • Weight loss, fatigue, or fever.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, or any other changes in your health, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

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