CancerDiseases & Conditions

Breast Cancer Explained: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Prevention

Knowing the symptoms, causes, treatments, and steps you can take to prevent breast cancer is crucial. Nearly 300,000 men and women in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with this type of tumor in 2020 alone. This statistic means, in your lifetime, chances are you or someone you know will have to battle breast cancer at some point.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Cancer can occur anywhere within the human body when cells grow at an unhealthy and abnormal rate, overpowering healthy and normal cells in the process; this is also known as a tumor. When this overgrowth happens, it can lead to other organs and systems within the body to shut down or experience severe problems. Breast cancer occurs when a growth begins in the breast.

There is not just one type of breast cancer, and it can be found throughout multiple sites in the breast. Some of the most common or well-known forms of breast cancer can include:

  • Ductal Cancer – This form of cancer begins in the milk ducts of the breast.
  • Phyllodes Tumor – While rarer, this type of breast cancer occurs when growths happen in the breast’s connective tissue (stromal).
  • Angiosarcoma – This form of breast cancer rarely occurs when growths occur within the blood vessel’s inner linings.
  • Sarcoma – Another more rare form of cancer that can occur, sarcoma, happen when tumors grow in the fat and muscle of the breast.
  • Lobular Cancer – When cancerous growth occurs in the breast’s milk-producing glands, it’s known as lobular cancer.
  • Lymphoma – Lymphoma occurs in a smaller number of cases; this happens when a mass develops due to skin tissue or lymph nodes becoming enlarged.

What Factors Can Lead to Breast Cancer?

It’s been found that breast cancer can stem from a variety of factors. Here is a look at some of the most commonly associated risk factors for breast cancer tumor development:

  • Age – As aging occurs, the risk of developing breast cancer increases.
  • Sex – Being a woman is one of the highest risk factors for incurring breast cancer. According to BreastCancer.Org, one out of every eight women, or twelve percent, will develop breast cancer.
  • Family History – There is an increased risk of developing breast cancer if your sister, daughter, or mother has been previously diagnosed.
  • Personal History – For those who have had a previous occurrence of breast conditions, abnormalities, or cancer in one breast, there is a higher chance of incurring breast cancer.
  • Obesity – It has been shown that obesity can lead to a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Radiation – Exposure to radiation in the chest area makes people prone to developing breast cancer later.
  • Early Menstruation – Women who began having their period earlier than age 12 have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
  • Late Menopause – For women who begin menopause at a later age than average, there is a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
  • Late or No Pregnancy – Women who get pregnant at a later age or who have never been pregnant have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol consumption leads to a higher risk of breast cancer occurrences.
  • Hormone Therapy – Medications for hormone therapy that are used for menopause symptom treatment can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

With breast cancer, it’s imperative to be familiar with commonly associated symptoms and contact a physician right away at the first sign. Here are some common symptoms to watch for:

  • Lumps or thickening in breast tissue
  • Nipple inversion
  • Breast size or shape change
  • Pitting or redness of breast skin
  • Breast dimpling
  • Flaking, crusting, peeling, or scaling on the breast or around the areola area

It’s vital to regularly screen and check for breast cancer; this can be done through yearly mammograms, self-checks, and various diagnostic screenings with your physician. When performing self-checks, you’ll want to check for:

  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Discharge from nipples
  • Unexplained pain
  • Lumps in, on, or around the breast area or armpit
  • Breast or nipple discoloration

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

When breast cancer is suspected, there are several ways your physician can diagnose it:

  • MRI
  • Mammograms
  • 3D mammograms
  • Biopsy
  • Contrast-enhanced mammogram (CEM)
  • Contrast-enhanced spectral mammogram (CESM)
  • Breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI)
  • Ultrasound
  • Molecular breast imaging (MBI)
  • Position emission mammogram (PEM)

What Are the Treatments for Breast Cancer?

Once breast cancer is detected and diagnosed, treatment must begin as soon as possible. Courses of treatment, as determined by your physicians, will depend on a variety of factors. Conventional breast cancer treatments can include:

  • Surgery to remove any cancer, such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Over-the-counter therapies for pain and other side-effects

Often, one or more of the listed treatments can be used in conjunction with each other as needed.

Steps to Take for Breast Cancer Prevention

While there are no methods to guarantee the prevention of breast cancer, steps can be taken to mitigate risk:

  • Screenings – Yearly screenings, such as mammograms, are key to early detection and minimizing associated risks.
  • Self-Checks – By performing regular breast self-checks, you can become familiar with your breast and be able to detect irregularities sooner.
  • Avoidance of Postmenopausal Hormone Therapies – Hormone therapies taken for symptoms of menopause have been shown to increase breast cancer risk. Speak to your doctor about risks or other options.
  • Healthy Diet and Exercise – It’s been shown that keeping a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise for at least 30 minutes per day can help prevent breast cancer.
  • Healthy Weight – With obesity having been linked to increased chances of getting breast cancer, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Alcohol Moderation – It’s recommended that alcohol be limited to no more than one drink or less per day to lessen the risks of developing breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Support

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can expect a variety of emotions and physical changes to occur while you undergo treatment. It’s essential to have a support group available to you during this time through friends, family, and other resources. If you’re seeking a support group, the Susan G. Komen foundation can help.

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