Many of the symptoms of breast cancer can also be symptoms of something else. Only your doctor can tell for sure. If you have any of these, make an appointment with your doctor.
A lump in the breast or armpit
Thickening of breast skin or tissue that lasts through your period
A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast
- Clear or bloody fluid coming from the nipple
A change in how the skin on your breast or nipple looks or feels. It may look dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed.
Redness of your breast or nipple
An area on your breast that clearly looks different from any other
A hard, marble-like area under the skin
Your doctor will do tests to find out the cause. He or she can give you the “all clear” or help you start treatment if the tests show you have cancer. Most breast lumps are not cancer. But if your doctor believes it is, it’s best to start treatment right away.
Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that develops from breast cells.
Breast cancer usually starts off in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. A malignant tumor can spread to other parts of the body. A breast cancer that started off in the lobules is known as lobular carcinoma, while one that developed from the ducts is called ductal carcinoma.
The vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in females. This article focuses on breast cancer in women. We also have an article about male breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in females worldwide. It accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women. 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, including both males and females, are from breast cancer.
Breast cancer rates are much higher in developed nations compared to developing ones. There are several reasons for this, with possibly life-expectancy being one of the key factors – breast cancer is more common in elderly women; women in the richest countries live much longer than those in the poorest nations. The different lifestyles and eating habits of females in rich and poor countries are also contributory factors, experts believe.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 232,340 female breast cancers and 2,240 male breast cancers are reported in the USA each year, as well as about 39,620 deaths caused by the disease.
Causes of breast cancer
Experts are not definitively sure what causes breast cancer. It is hard to say why one person develops the disease while another does not. We know that some risk factors can impact on a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer. These are:
1) Getting older
The older a woman gets, the higher is her risk of developing breast cancer; age is a risk factor. Over 80% of all female breast cancers occur among women aged 50+ years (after the menopause).
Women who have a close relative who has/had breast or ovarian cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer. If two close family members develop the disease, it does not necessarily mean they shared the genes that make them more vulnerable, because breast cancer is a relatively common cancer.
The majority of breast cancers are not hereditary.
Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a considerably higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. These genes can be inherited. TP53, another gene, is also linked to greater breast cancer risk.
3) A history of breast cancer
Women who have had breast cancer, even non-invasive cancer, are more likely to develop the disease again, compared to women who have no history of the disease.
4) Having had certain types of breast lumps
Women who have had some types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are more likely to develop cancer later on. Examples include atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ.
5) Dense breast tissue
Women with more dense breast tissue have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
6) Estrogen exposure
Women who started having periods earlier or entered menopause later than usual have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This is because their bodies have been exposed to estrogen for longer. Estrogen exposure begins when periods start, and drops dramatically during the menopause.
Post-menopausal obese and overweight women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Experts say that there are higher levels of estrogen in obese menopausal women, which may be the cause of the higher risk.
Taller-than-average women have a slightly greater likelihood of developing breast cancer than shorter-than-average women. Experts are not sure why.
9) Alcohol consumption
The more alcohol a woman regularly drinks, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer is. The Mayo Clinic says that if a woman wants to drink, she should not exceed one alcoholic beverage per day.
10) Radiation exposure
Undergoing X-rays and CT scans may raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Scientists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that women who had been treated with radiation to the chest for a childhood cancer have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
11) HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
Both forms, combined and estrogen-only HRT therapies may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Combined HRT causes a higher risk.
12) Certain jobs
French researchers found that women who worked at night prior to a first pregnancy had a higher risk of eventually developing breast cancer.
Canadian researchers found that certain jobs, especially those that bring the human body into contact with possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Examples include bar/gambling, automotive plastics manufacturing, metal-working, food canning and agriculture. They reported their findings in the November 2012 issue of Environmental Health.
Diagnosing breast cancer
Women are usually diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine breast cancer screening, or after detecting certain signs and symptoms and seeing their doctor about them.
Below are examples of diagnostic tests and procedures for breast cancer:
1) Breast exam
2) X-ray (mammogram)
3) 2D combined with 3D mammograms
4) Breast ultrasound
6) Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
The main breast cancer treatment options may include:
Biological therapy (targeted drug therapy)