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  • Dr. Tarangini V

All You Need To Know About Breast Cancer

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in females (30% of all female cancers), more common after Middle age but can occur in any age group, after 20 years.

According to studies, 2 to 5% of cases of breast cancer are hereditary, with a family history but a vast majority of cases are sporadic without any family history.

A lump in the breast is the most common presenting symptom and 10% of cases present with breast pain.

30 to 45% of cases occur with mutation of the BRCA1 gene and about 70% of breast cancer spread occurs to bones

What is Breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast enlarge out of control. It is a kind of cancer that starts in the breast. It can start in one or both breasts. There are different kinds of breast cancer. The type of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer.

Let's first learn about the anatomy and parts of a breast. A breast is modified sweat glands made up of 3 main parts: lobules, ducts, and connective tissue.

  • Lobules are the glands that produce milk.

  • Ducts are the tubes that carry milk to the nipple.

  • The connective tissue (consisting of fatty and fibrous tissue) surrounds and supports everything together.

Where can breast cancer spread?

Most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules. But Breast cancer can also extend outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. When breast cancer advances to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized. Blood spread most commonly occurs in bones (70%). Other organs where metastasis can occur include the Liver, Lung, Brain, Adrenal gland, and ovaries.

What are the types of breast cancer?

The most common kinds of breast cancer are:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: Cancer cells start in the duct and grow outside the duct to other parts of the breast tissue. Cancer cells can lay out or metastasize to other parts of the body.

  • Invasive lobular cancer: Cancer cells start in the lobules and spread from the lobules to nearby breast tissue. These types of invasive cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body.

  • Other less common kinds of breast cancer, are Paget’s disease, medullary, mucinous, and inflammatory breast cancer.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

The initial symptom of breast cancer is generally an area of thickened tissue in the breast or a lump in the breast or an armpit.

Other symptoms include:

  • Armpit or breast pain does not change with the monthly cycle

  • Pitting, like the surface of an orange, or colour changes such as redness in the skin of the breast

  • A rash around or on one nipple

  • Discharge from a nipple, that may contain blood

  • An inverted nipple or sunken nipple

  • A change in the size or shape of the breast

  • Peeling, flaking, or scaling of the skin of the breast or nipple.

Breast masses and lumps are one of the first signs of breast cancer. In many cases, these lumps have no pain. People can experience pain near chest areas of the nipples that are bound by the menstrual cycle. The pain caused by breast cancer is typically moderate. Especially if it is tough or permanent, all those who have experienced breast pain must be consulted with a medical professional.

Causes of Breast Cancer

After puberty, a woman's breast is made up of connective tissue, fat, and thousands of lobules. These are the small glands that produce milk. A small tube or duct carries the milk to the nipple. Breast cancer is caused by a genetic mutation or DNA damage. These may be related to estrogen, hereditary genetic defects, or exposure to hereditary genes that can cause cancer, such as the p53, BRCA1, and BRCA2 genes. When people are healthy, their immune system attacks any abnormal DNA or growth. This does not occur when a person has cancer. As a result, cells in the breast tissue begin to grow out of control and do not die normally. This excessive cell proliferation forms tumours that deprive surrounding cells of nutrients and energy. Breast cancer usually begins in the inner layer of the ducts or in the lobules that feed the ducts. From there it can unfold to other parts of the body.

Stages of Breast cancer

Stage 0: This is also called ductal carcinoma. The cancerous cells have not spread to surrounding tissues and are only within the ducts

Stage 1: At this stage, the tumour has not affected any lymph nodes, or there are small groups of cancer cells in lymph nodes, and the tumour measures up to 2 centimetres (cm) across

Stage 2: The tumour starts to spread to nearby nodes, or it is 2–5 cm across and has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 3: The tumour has spread to several lymph nodes, or the tumour is larger than 5 cm and has spread to a few lymph nodes.

Stage 4: At this stage, cancer has spread to distant organs, most often the bones, liver, brain, or lungs.

What happens if breast cancer is ignored?

If left untreated, long-term side effects such as fatigue and joint pain can lead to anxiety and depression in breast cancer survivors. Most cases of breast cancer can be treated, especially if the doctor makes an early diagnosis. Many people survive for years or even decades after being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.

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