What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. Breast tissue covers a larger area than just the breast. It extends up to the collarbone and from the armpit to the breastbone. Behind the breast tissue are the muscles of the chest and the upper arm. The main function of the breast is to produce and secrete milk, and it is made up of milk glands, milk tubes (ducts) and fatty tissue. The glands where the milk is made are grouped into lobules and the ducts carry the milk to the nipple. The circle of
darker skin around the nipple is called the areola. Within the breast, the glands and ducts are surrounded and protected by fatty tissue. Breast tissue changes with age, from mostly milk ducts during adolescence to mostly fatty tissue in older women.
The breast is a gland that consists of breast tissue supported by connective tissue (flesh) surrounded by fat. The easiest way to understand how the inside of the breast is formed is by comparing it to an upturned bush. Its leaves are known as lobules and they produce milk that drains into ducts that are the branches of the breast tree. These in turn drain into 12 or 15 major or large ducts which empty onto the surface of the nipple, just like the branches of a tree drain to the trunk.
Breast cancer develops from the cells that line the breast, lobules and the draining ducts. Cancer cells that remain confined to the lobule and the ducts are called 'in situ' or 'non-invasive'. They are sometimes also referred to as pre-cancers in recognition of the fact that these cells have not yet gained the ability to spread to other parts of the body, which is the feature that most people associate with cancer. An invasive cancer is one where the cells have moved outside the ducts and lobules into the surrounding breast tissue.
The risk of getting breast cancer increases with age. For a woman who lives to the age of 90 the odds of getting breast cancer her entire lifetime is about 12.5% or 1 in 8. Men can also develop breast cancer, although their risk is less than 1 in 1000 (see sex and illness). This risk is modified by many different factors. In some families, there is a strong inherited familial risk of breast cancer. Some racial groups have a higher risk of developing breast cancer - notably, women of European and African descent have been noted to have a higher rate of breast cancer than women of Asian origin. Other established risk factors include having no children, having the first child later, not breastfeeding, early menarche (the first menstrual period), late menopause and taking hormone replacement therapy.
The probability of breast cancer rises with age but breast cancer tends to be more aggressive when it occurs in younger women. One type of breast cancer that is especially aggressive and disproportionately occurs in younger women is Inflammatory Breast Cancer. It is initially Staged as Stage IIIb or Stage IV. It also is unique because it often does not present with a lump so that it often is not detected by mammography or ultrasound. It presents with the signs and symptoms of a breast infection like Mastitis.
Two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been linked to the familial form of breast cancer. Women in families expressing these genes have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not.
More information on breast cancer
What is breast cancer? - Breast cancer is cancer of breast tissue. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. Breast tissue covers a larger area than just the breast.
What types of breast cancer are there? - Breast cancer is a type of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can develop in one of several different areas of the breast.
What're the risk factors for breast cancer? - Risk factors for breast cancer include age, geographical variation, reproductive factors, inherited risk, previous breast disease.
What're the symptoms of breast cancer? - Symptoms of breast cancer include breast lump, breast discharge, nipple inversion, or changes in the skin overlying the breast.
How is breast cancer diagnosed? - The mainstay of breast cancer diagnosis is the triad of clinical history, physical examination and imaging (mammography or ultrasound).
What're the stages of breast cancer? - The stages of breast cancer depends on its size and the extent to which it has spread to other parts of the body.
What causes breast cancer? - The exact cause or causes of breast cancer remain unknown. Hormonal influences play a role in the development of breast cancer.
What're the treatments for breast cancer? - Treatment for breast cancer begins with a decision about the type of surgery. Breast implants is used for breast reconstruction.
What're the side effects of breast cancer treatment? - The type and extent of breast cancer treatment side effects vary depending on the particular treatment involved, its duration, and its dose.
How is breast cancer treated with surgery? - Surgery is the mainstay of therapy for breast cancer. A breast biopsy is the removal of breast tissue for examination by a pathologist.
What's the chemotherapy for breast care? - Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. Chemotherapy involves being given a combination of anti-cancer medicines.
What's the radiation therapy for breast cancer? - Radiation therapy is often used to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells in the breast, chest wall, or axilla (underarm) area after surgery.
What's the hormone therapy for breast cancer? - Most breast cancer is sensitive to the female hormone oestrogen. Megestrol acetate is used for hormone treatment of advanced breast cancer.
What breast cancer medications are available? - Medications to treat breast cancer include selective estrogen-receptor modulators, aromatase inhibitors, biologic response modifiers.
Can breast cancer be prevented? - There is no known way to prevent breast cancer. But several preventive measures can be take to reduce risk of breast cancer.