Breast cancer is a persistent disease that starts when cells in the breast grow out of control, usually forming a mass (tumor). If the tumor is cancerous (malignant), the cells can invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. The most common sites are the skin around a lumpectomy or mastectomy scar, scalp, lymph nodes, bone, lung, liver, and brain. Currently, the average risk of a woman in the U.S. developing breast cancer is approximately 12%, meaning there is a 1 in 8 chance a woman will get breast cancer. Factually, despite popular belief, breast cancer also occurs in men, though it is more prevalent among women. Most patients with breast cancer diagnoses have likely had the cancerous mass for 5 to 10 years. Cancer of the breast is easily felt in the chest once they reach a size of approximately 1 cm. A lump of this size contains about one billion cells, which results from 30 doublings of a single cancer cell. Assuming that a breast lump grows with a doubling time of 100 days, it would take approximately ten years to reach a point where it could be felt.
Types of Breast Cancer
Millions of people around the world are affected by breast cancer and its several types. Our team of physicians and researchers understand that breast cancers respond to treatment in different ways, meaning each cancer type and location is unique. Some of the most common kinds of breast cancer we treat include:
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
This rare and aggressive disease blocks lymph vessels in the skin of the mammary gland, making the breasts appear swollen, red, and inflamed. The disease progresses within a matter of weeks or months. In fact, inflammatory breast cancer diagnoses are either stage III or IV diseases, depending on whether cancer cells have metastasized only to nearby lymph nodes or to other tissues.
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is non-invasive breast cancer. “Ductal” means that cancer begins inside the breast milk ducts; “carcinoma” refers to cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that line the internal organs; “in situ” means “in its original place.” DCIS is not life-threatening, but having the disease can increase the risk of developing invasive breast cancer later on.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), otherwise known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is breast cancer that grows within the milk duct and invades the fatty tissue of the breast outside the duct. IDC is the most common type of breast cancer, representing 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. Invasive ductal carcinoma may metastasize to other parts of the body if not treated.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
Also beginning in the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast, invasive lobular carcinoma is responsible for approximately 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States. Invasive cancer means the cancer cells are no longer confined in the lobule where they developed and can metastasize to nearby lymph nodes and other vulnerable areas of the body.
Stages of Breast Cancer
Stage 0.At this stage, you are likely to hear the word “situ” meaning “in the original place.” There is no indication of cancer cells developing outside of the breast, nor are they invading neighboring healthy tissue.
Stage I.Starting at this level, breast cancer is called invasive because it has broken free to attack healthy tissue. Stage 1A denotes cancer has spread into the fatty breast tissue. The tumor itself can be nonexistent or no larger than a shelled peanut. Stage IB indicates the presence of cancer cells in a few lymph nodes, but only in small amounts.
Stage II.At this stage. cancer has grown, spread, or both. Stage IA means the tumor in the breast is quite small or nonexistent. There may be no cancer in the lymph nodes, or it may have spread to as many as three. A stage IIB breast tumor is more prominent and may be as big as a lime. It may or may not be in any lymph nodes.
Stage III.In stage III breast cancer, the tumor is more than two inches in diameter. Though considered advanced and challenging to treat, cancer has not spread to the bones or organs. Stage IIIA means cancer has been found in at least nine of the lymph nodes, while IIIB suggests the tumor has developed into the skin around your breast, and IIIC implies cancer has been found in 10 or more lymph nodes.
Stage IV.At this crucial stage, cancer has metastasized to more distant areas of the body. The most common sites include the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. New Hope Unlimited’s treatment strategy for Stage IV breast cancer focuses on each cancer site to efficiently reduce symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life during recovery.
Warning Signs or Symptoms
It is crucial to consult a physician when experiencing breast cancer symptoms, including:
- a change in size or shape
- a lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
- a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling
- presence of unilateral, painful, pruritic, and/or burning lesions
- nipple discharge without squeezing
- redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
- lymph node enlargement around the breast, armpit, or collarbone
- recurring pain in your breast or armpit
- sudden warmth and itching sensation
Major Risk Factors
Today, the exact cause of breast cancer remains unknown, but there are factors that may affect a person’s risk of developing the disease, including:
Lifestyle-related Breast Cancer Risk Factors
- Drinking alcohol. Studies consistently show that drinking alcoholic beverages increase a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
- Smoking tobacco. Smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women.
- Being overweight or obese. This higher risk is because fat cells make estrogen, and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop.
- Lack of exercise. 1.25 to 2.5 hours of brisk walking every week can reduce breast cancer risk by 18%.
- Late pregnancy. Women who bear their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer.
- Not breastfeeding. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may lower breast cancer risk, especially if continued for up to 2 years.
- Birth control. The risk increase varies from 0% to 60%, depending on the specific type of oral combined hormone contraceptive.
- Radiation exposure. Women who were exposed to radiation treatment to the chest are at a higher risk for breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change
- Being a woman. Being born female makes you more prone to breast cancer as compared to males.
- Age. Most invasive cancer cases have been diagnosed in women aged 55 and older.
- Inherited genes. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are inherited and account for about 3% of breast cancers.
- Family history. You may be two to three times more at risk if you have first-degree relatives who had breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer. Surviving breast cancer has an increased risk of getting cancer in the other breast.
- Early menstruation and late menopause. Menstruating before age 12 and experiencing menopause later than age 55 increases breast cancer risk due to longer exposure to estrogen.
- Breast density. Women with dense breasts are up to 2 times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman with an average breast density.
There are other breast cancer risk factors requiring more in-depth investigation, such as diet and vitamins, chemical exposure, and working night shifts. Current findings are still inconclusive about their link with breast cancer.