What Is Breast cancer?
Before you go into what breast cancer is all about we need to know what cancer is:
Cancer is a malignant growth or tumor resulting from the division of abnormal cells, It is caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.
Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues.
Cancer is not just one disease there are many types of cancer. It’s not just one disease. Cancer can start in the lungs, the breast, the colon, or even in the blood. Cancers are alike in some ways, but they are different in the ways they grow and spread.
Cancer occurs as a result of mutations, or abnormal changes, in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy. The genes are in each cell’s nucleus, which acts as the “control room” of each cell. Normally, the cells in our bodies replace themselves through an orderly process of cell growth: healthy new cells take over as old ones die out. But over time, mutations can “turn on” certain genes and “turn off” others in a cell. That changed cell gains the ability to keep dividing without control or order, producing more cells just like it and forming a tumor.
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. It usually starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump.
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.
Causes of Breast cancer
The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, no one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. It is only the doctors in charge that know why one woman develops breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most women who have breast cancer will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell's DNA.
Yet there are some risk factors that could increase the chances of having cancer, this include:
Cancer can take decades to develop. That's why most people diagnosed with cancer are 65 or older. While it's more common in older adults,cancer isn't exclusively an adult disease — cancer can be diagnosed at any age.
Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren't dense. Dense breasts have more gland tissue that makes and drains milk and supportive tissue (also called stroma) that surrounds the gland. Breast density can be inherited, so if your mother has dense breasts, it's likely you will, too.
One way to measure breast density is the thickness of tissue on a mammogram.
The Breast Imaging Reporting and Database Systems, or BI-RADS, which reports the findings of mammograms, also includes an assessment of breast density. BI-RADS classifies breast density into four groups:
- Mostly fatty: The breasts are made up of mostly fat and contain little fibrous and glandular tissue. This means the mammogram would likely show anything that was abnormal.
- Scattered density: The breasts have quite a bit of fat, but there are a few areas of fibrous and glandular tissue.
- Consistent density: The breasts have many areas of fibrous and glandular tissue that are evenly distributed through the breasts. This can make it hard to see small masses in the breast.
- Extremely dense: The breasts have a lot of fibrous and glandular tissue. This may make it hard to see a cancer on a mammogram because the cancer can blend in with the normal tissue.
Still, no one method of measuring breast density has been agreed upon by doctors. Breast density is not based on how your breasts feel during your self-exam or your doctor's physical exam.
Research has shown that dense breasts:
Can be 6 times more likely to develop cancer
Can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer; breast cancers (which look white like breast gland tissue) are easier to see on a mammogram when they're surrounded by fatty tissue (which looks dark)
Steps you can take
If you have dense breasts, there lifestyle choices you can make to keep your breast cancer risk as low as it can be:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol
- Eating nutritious food
- Never smoking (or quitting if you do smoke)
These are just a few of the steps you can take. Review the links on the left side of this page for more options. Along with lifestyle options, many doctors recommend additional screening for women with dense breasts. This might include MRI scanning and ultrasound.
More frequent screening: If you have a higher risk of breast cancer because you have dense breasts, you and your doctor will develop a screening plan tailored to your unique situation. General recommended screening guidelines include:
- A monthly breast self-exam
- A yearly breast exam by your doctor
- A digital mammogram every year starting at age 40
Digital mammography is better than film mammography in women with dense breasts, regardless of age.
Your personal screening plan also may include the following tests to detect any cancer as early as possible:
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast.
Talk to your doctor about developing a specialized program for early detection that meets your individual needs and gives you peace of mind.
To improve the information learned from your breast imaging studies, it's important to both compare this year's study to prior years' studies and to correlate the information learned from the various imaging studies obtained (what you feel in the breast, compared to the results of your mammogram, MRI, and ultrasound). Usually test reports will say if the recent imaging test is different from other tests or prior results of the same test. Obtaining a copy of each breast imaging report and putting them in a binder keeps you in the loop and reduces the risk of your tests falling through the cracks or someone missing an important finding.
Being a woman
Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer. Men can have breast cancer, too, but this disease is about 100 times more common in women than in men. This might be because men have less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can promote breast cancer cell growth.
Birth control pills: Using oral contraceptives within the past 10 years may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. The risk decreases over time once the pills are stopped.
Drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who don’t drink alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of other cancers, too. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day. A drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Some cancers can be related to the genes that were passed down from your parents. It's not very common but you might find it helpful to understand how this works.
Overweight or obese
Higher body mass index (BMI)
Abdominal fatness, and weight gain during adulthood, are classified by WCRF/AICR as probable causes of post-menopausal breast cancer.
Greater birth weight is classified by WCRF/AICR as a probable cause of pre-menopausal breast cancer.Higher BMI is classified by WCRF/AICR as probably protective against pre-menopausal breast cancer. An estimated 9% of female breast cancers in the UK are linked to excess body weight.
Greater body fatness is associated with higher sex hormone levels (fatty tissue produces more oestrogen), which may partly explain the link between body fatness and breast cancer risk. Abdominal fatness and weight gain during adulthood are thought to be more accurate measures of fatty tissue levels, compared with BMI, because BMI includes lean tissue mass.
Previous diagnosis of breast cancer
Personal Health History: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future. Also, your risk increases if abnormal breast cells have been detected before (such as atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)).
Radiation exposure: Women who, as children or young adults, had radiation therapy to the chest area as treatment for another cancer have a significantly increased risk for breast cancer.
Symptoms/Signs of Breast cancer
A lump in the breast is the most common first sign
Sometimes the lump is seen on a screening mammogram before it can be felt.
- The lump is present all the time and does not get smaller or go away with the menstrual cycle.
- The lump may feel like it is attached to the skin or chest wall and cannot be moved.
- The lump may feel hard, irregular in shape and very different from the rest of the breast tissue.
- The lump may be tender, but it is usually not painful.
- Pain is more often a symptom of a non-cancerous (benign) condition, but should be checked by a doctor.
- A lump in the armpit: In some cases a small, hard lumps in the armpit may be a sign that breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Although these lumps are often painless, they may be tender.
- Changes in breast shape or size
- Changes in skin and colour: The skin of the breast may become dimpled or puckered. A thickening and dimpling of the skin is sometimes called orange peel skin, or peau d’orange.
- Discharge from the nipples can be caused by many conditions, most of which are non-cancerous (benign).It may be a sign of breast cancer, especially if it appears without squeezing the nipple (is spontaneous) and is blood-stained.
- Redness, swelling and increased warmth (signs that look like an infection) may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
- Itching of the breast or nipple may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.Itchiness is often not relieved by ointments, creams or other medications.
- Nipple changes: Some people’s nipples are always pointed inward (inverted). Normal nipples that suddenly become inverted should be checked by a doctor.
- Nipple that retracts or turns inward.
- Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only)
As time goes on if not treated the symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs.
- Bone pain
- Double vision
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
How to diagnose Breast cancer
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with early breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why getting the recommended screening tests before any symptoms develop is so important. There are three main categories of cancer related test, under these three categories we have other test.
These are the three categories:
Diagnostic tests: Diagnostic tests (such as biopsy) are given to people who are suspected of having breast cancer, either because of symptoms they may be experiencing or a screening test result. These tests are used to determine whether or not breast cancer is present and, if so, whether or not it has traveled outside the breast. Diagnostic tests also are used to gather more information about the cancer to guide decisions about treatment.
Monitoring tests: Once breast cancer is diagnosed, many tests are used during and after treatment to monitor how well therapies are working. Monitoring tests also may be used to check for any signs of recurrence.
Screening tests: Screening tests (such as yearly mammograms) are given routinely to people who appear to be healthy and are not suspected of having breast cancer. Their purpose is to find breast cancer early, before any symptoms can develop and the cancer usually is easier to treat.
Other test that falls into the categories includes:
- Breast Cancer Index Test
- Breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
- Breast Physical Exam
- Breast Self-Exam (BSE)
- Lab Tests
- Mammogram:A mammogram is an x-ray that allows a qualified specialist to examine the breast tissue for any suspicious areas
Biopsy: A biopsy is done when mammograms, other imaging tests, or the physical exam shows a breast change that may be cancer. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure if it’s cancer. For a biopsy, a sample (tiny piece) of the suspicious area is taken out and tested in the lab. The sample is called a biopsy specimen.
How to Prevent Breast cancer
- Avoid Too Much Alcohol
- Avoid Birth Control Pills, Particularly After Age 35
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution
- Be Physically Active
- Do not Smoke
- Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables
- Keep Weight in Check
Avoid Birth Control Pills, Particularly after Age 35
Birth control pills have both risks and benefits. The younger a woman is, the lower the risks are. While women are taking birth control pills, they have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. This risk goes away quickly, though, after stopping the pill. The risk of stroke and heart attack is also increased while on the pill – particularly if a woman smokes. However, long-term use can also have important benefits, like lowering the risk of ovarian cancer, colon cancer and uterine cancer – not to mention unwanted pregnancy – so there’s also a lot in its favor. If you’re very concerned about breast cancer, avoiding birth control pills is one option to lower risk.
Be Physically Active
Exercise is as close to a silver bullet for good health as there is, and women who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise is also one of the best ways to help keep weight in check.
Breastfeeding for a total of one year or more (combined for all children) lowers the risk of breast cancer. It also has great health benefits for the child.
Do not Smoke
Smokers and non-smokers alike know how unhealthy smoking is. On top of lowering quality of life and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and at least 15 cancers – including breast cancer – it also causes smelly breath, bad teeth, and wrinkles. Now that’s motivation to stay smoke-free or work to get smoke-free.
Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables
A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower (a drink a day or under). While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. If you don’t drink, don’t feel you need to start. If you drink moderately, there’s likely no reason to stop. But, if you drink more, you should cut down or quit.
Keep Weight in Check
It is easy to tune out because it gets said so often, but maintaining a healthy weight is an important goal for everyone. Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer, especially after menopause.
Treatment for Breast cancer
- Biological therapy for breast cancer
- Breast cancer follows up
- Breast cancer research
- Chemotherapy for breast cancer
- Hormone therapy for breast cancer
- Lymphoedema after treatment
- Number stages of breast cancer
- Radiotherapy for breast cancer
- Surgery for breast cancer
Types of breast cancer treatment
Some treatments remove or destroy the disease within the breast and nearby tissues, such as lymph nodes. These include:
Surgery to remove the whole breast, called a mastectomy, or to remove just the tumor and tissues around it, called a lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery. There are different types of mastectomies and lumpectomies.
Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells
Other treatments destroy or control cancer cells all over the body:
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. As these powerful medicines fight the disease, they also can cause side effects, like nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flashes, and fatigue.
Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially estrogen, from fueling the growth of breast cancer cells. Medicines include tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox) for women before and after menopause and anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) for postmenopausal women. Side effects can include hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Some types of this therapy work by stopping the ovaries from making hormones, either through surgery or medication.
Targeted therapy such as lapatinib (Tykerb), pertuzumab (Perjeta), and trastuzumab (Herceptin). These medicines prompt the body's immune system to destroy cancer. They target breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2. Palbociclib (Ibrance) works by blocking a molecule that promotes cancer growth. Along with letrozole, palbociclib is for postmenopausal women with certain types of advanced cancer.
You might get chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy along with surgery or radiation. They can kill any cancer cells that were left behind by other treatments.
Breast cancer Home Remedies/Home Cure
- Broccoli: Broccoli contains the linamarase gene that when present inside cancer cells can breakdown into cyanide and effectively kill tumorous cells.
- Calcium: It is important to consume calcium, especially in the pre-menopausal period for women. It has been shown to reduce breast cancer risk in a number of different studies. Foods rich in calcium are canned salmon, orange juice, almonds and green vegetables.
- Exercise: Research suggests that exercising an hour daily reduces the risk of contracting breast cancer in women of any age and any weight. Research also suggests that physical activity and healthy diet may help to reduce risk of cancer.
- Garlic: It is well known that garlic has certain antibiotic properties which can be used to get rid of various infectious agents like bacteria, yeast, and fungi. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), presence of alkyl sulphur compounds makes it a very good anti-cancer agent. It does so by causing the malignant cells to undergo natural cell death, also known as apoptosis. It also plays an important role in activating the immune cells against cancerous cells. It is always better to eat garlic in raw form as an oil, clove or powdered substance, rather than consuming it in a cooked form.
- Grapes: Grapes contain a compound called proanthocyanidins that reduces the body’s estrogen production. These results in the effective treatment of breast cancer, as is evident from the clinical trials performed over several breast cancer patients. The study showed that the extract of grapes affects breast cancer tumors that are hormone-sensitive. A drug called doxorubicin was also found to enhance its anti-tumor activity by consuming grapes juice or extract everyday as a supplemental treatment.
- Green Tea: Prepare herbal green tea by boiling some amount of tea leaves in a glass of water till it reduces to half. This has anti-inflammatory properties and is very effective against breast cancer formation.
- Low calorie diet: Research suggests that low calorie diet may slow down the spread of breast cancer.
- Olive Oil: Olive oil is known for its health benefits. It also reduces risk of cancer. Recent research study suggests that hydroxytyrosol, a major component of olive oil may help prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
- Soybean: This is one of the known dietary elements that are considered to be an absolute must for breast cancer patients. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, it contains phytoestrogens and several other entities that block cancerous cells from using estrogen. It also contains isoflavones needed for the prevention of cancer at early stages. It can be taken either as sprouts or as a cooked vegetable.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D intake has been associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. This can be found in milk, eggs, and cod liver oil, but not in cheese and yogurt.
- Wheatgrass: This widely praised type of health grass is known to be advantageous to cancer patients. Wheatgrass, when taken in the form of juice or raw is shown to regress cancer cells’ growth as demonstrated by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. It has the ability to enhance the immune system, and rids your body of toxins and waste products.
Complications of Breast cancer
Cancer and its treatment can cause several complications, including:
- Pain: Pain can be caused by cancer or by cancer treatment, though not all cancer is painful. Medications and other approaches can effectively treat cancer-related pain.
- Fatigue: Fatigue in people with cancer has many causes, but it can often be managed. Fatigue associated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments is common, but it's usually temporary.
- Difficulty breathing: Cancer or cancer treatment may cause a feeling of being short of breath. Treatments may bring relief.
- Nausea: Certain cancers and cancer treatments can cause nausea. Your doctor can sometimes predict if your treatment is likely to cause nausea. Medications and other treatments may help you prevent or decrease nausea.
- Diarrhea or constipation: Cancer and cancer treatment can affect your bowels and cause diarrhea or constipation.
- Weight loss: Cancer and cancer treatment may cause weight loss. Cancer steals food from normal cells and deprives them of nutrients. This is often not affected by how many calories or what kind of food is eaten; it's difficult to treat. In most cases, using artificial nutrition through tubes into the stomach or vein does not help change the weight loss.
- Chemical changes in your body: Cancer can upset the normal chemical balance in your body and increase your risk of serious complications. Signs and symptoms of chemical imbalances might include excessive thirst, frequent urination, constipation and confusion.
- Brain and nervous system problems: Cancer can press on nearby nerves and cause pain and loss of function of one part of your body. Cancer that involves the brain can cause headaches and stroke-like signs and symptoms, such as weakness on one side of your body.
- Unusual immune system reactions to cancer: In some cases the body's immune system may react to the presence of cancer by attacking healthy cells. Called paraneoplastic syndrome, these very rare reactions can lead to a variety of signs and symptoms, such as difficulty walking and seizures.
- Cancer that spreads: As cancer advances, it may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Where cancer spreads depends on the type of cancer.
- Cancer that returns: Cancer survivors have a risk of cancer recurrence. Some cancers are more likely to recur than others. Ask your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence. Your doctor may devise a follow-up care plan for you after treatment. This plan may include periodic scans and exams in the months and years after your treatment, to look for cancer recurrence.