Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Breast cancer symptoms
Breast cancer is a formidable foe, affecting millions of women (and some men) worldwide each year. It’s like an uninvited guest that barges into your life, turning your world upside down. But knowledge is power, and understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options can help you or a loved one navigate this challenging journey with more confidence and hope. 

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of breast cancer, exploring what it is, how to recognize the signs & symptoms of breast cancer, what causes breast cancer, and the various breast cancer treatment options available. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get started!

What is Breast Cancer?

At its core, breast cancer is a disease in which the cells in the breast grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant (cancerous) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body.

Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too. It’s important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not cancerous (malignant). Non-cancerous breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

The signs of breast cancer can vary from person to person. Some people do not have any signs or breast cancer symptoms at all. A person may find out they have breast cancer after a routine mammogram.

Some common signs & symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • A new lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Pain in any area of the breast

It’s important to note that these breast cancer symptoms do not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. For example, pain in your breasts or a breast lump can be caused by a benign cyst. Still, if you have any signs of breast cancer, you should see a health care provider to be sure.

Types of Breast Cancer

There are several types of breast cancer, and they are broken into two main categories: “invasive” and “noninvasive”, or in situ. Invasive cancer has spread from the breast ducts or glands to other parts of the breast, while noninvasive cancer has not spread from the original tissue.

These two categories are used to describe the most common types of breast cancer, which include:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC)
  • Inflammatory breast cancer

Less common types of breast cancer include:

  • Paget’s disease of the breast
  • Angiosarcoma
  • Phyllodes tumor
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

While these types can seem confusing, your doctor can help explain your specific type of breast cancer, which will help guide your treatment plan.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Causes of breast cancer

While we don’t yet know exactly what causes breast cancer, we do know that certain risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing the disease. However, having one or even several breast cancer risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop breast cancer. Many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than simply being women.

Some of the main risk factors for breast cancer include:

1. Being a Woman

Simply being a woman is the most significant risk factor for developing breast cancer. Men can develop breast cancer, but this disease is about 100 times more common among women than men.

2. Age

Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. About 80% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women over the age of 50.

3. Genetics

About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes passed from parent to child, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

4. Family History

If you have a first degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) who has had breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease nearly doubles.

5. Personal History

If you’ve had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.

6. Race and Ethnicity

Overall, white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women, but African-American women are more likely to die of this cancer.

7. Dense Breasts

Women with dense breasts (more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue) have a higher risk of breast cancer.

8. Certain Benign Breast Conditions

Women diagnosed with certain benign breast conditions may have a higher risk of breast cancer. These include atypical hyperplasia, a condition in which there is an overgrowth of abnormal cells in the breast ducts or lobules.

9. Menstrual History

Women who started menstruating early (before age 12) or who went through menopause late (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.

10. Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk of breast cancer. These include being overweight or obese after menopause, physical inactivity, and drinking alcohol.

It’s important to note that most women who have one or more of these risk factors do not get breast cancer. Also, not having any risk factors doesn’t mean you won’t develop breast cancer. That’s why regular screening is so important.

Breast Cancer Treatment Options

Breast cancer treatment options available

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will review your pathology report and the results of any tests to understand the specifics of your tumor. This information, along with other factors like your age, overall health, and personal preferences, will help guide your breast cancer treatment.

Breast cancer treatment falls into two main categories:

  1. Local treatments: These treatments target the tumor without affecting the rest of the body. Types of local therapy used for breast cancer include:
    • Surgery
    • Radiation therapy
  2. Systemic treatments: Drugs used to treat breast cancer are considered systemic therapies because they can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. They can be given by mouth or put directly into the bloodstream. Depending on the type of breast cancer, several systemic drugs might be used, including:
    • Chemotherapy
    • Hormone therapy
    • Targeted therapy
    • Immunotherapy

Many women will get more than one type of treatment for their cancer. Let’s look at each of these breast cancer treatment options in more detail.

Surgery

There are two main types of surgery to remove breast cancer:

1. Breast-conserving surgery (also called a lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, or segmental mastectomy)

This surgery removes only the part of the breast containing the cancer. The goal is to remove the cancer as well as some surrounding normal tissue. How much breast is removed depends on where and how big the tumor is, as well as other factors.

2. Mastectomy

A mastectomy removes the entire breast. There are several different types of mastectomies. Some women may also get a double mastectomy, in which both breasts are removed.

The type of surgery done depends on:

  • The size and location of the tumor
  • The type of breast cancer
  • How far the cancer has spread
  • The size of the breasts
  • The woman’s preference

Some women may get breast reconstruction after surgery, either at the same time as the cancer surgery or later. This involves using artificial implants or tissue from other parts of the body to recreate the breast.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays or particles that destroy cancer cells. It is given to the breast area after breast-conserving surgery to help lower the chance that the cancer will come back in the breast or nearby lymph nodes. Radiation may also be recommended after mastectomy in patients with larger tumors or when cancer is found in the lymph nodes.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatment

Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with cancer-killing drugs that may be given intravenously (injected into your vein) or by mouth. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells in most parts of the body. Chemo is given in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a recovery period.

Chemo may be given at different times:

  • Before surgery to try to shrink a large tumor (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
  • After surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence (adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • For advanced breast cancer to help control the cancer

The specific chemo drugs and how long they are given for vary depending on the type and stage of breast cancer.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is often used as an adjuvant therapy to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery. It is usually given for at least 5 years. Hormone therapy can also be used to treat cancer that has come back after treatment or that has spread to other parts of the body.

Hormone therapy works by either lowering estrogen levels or stopping estrogen from acting on breast cancer cells. This kind of treatment is helpful for hormone receptor-positive breast cancers, which need estrogen and/or progesterone (female hormones) to grow.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapies are newer breast cancer treatments that specifically target abnormalities in cancer cells. For example, Herceptin (trastuzumab) is a targeted therapy for breast cancers that make too much of a protein called HER2. These HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.

Other targeted therapies used to treat breast cancer include:

  • Avastin (bevacizumab)
  • Ibrance (palbociclib), Kisqali (ribociclib), and Verzenio (abemaciclib) for ER/PR-positive and HER2-negative breast cancers
  • Lynparza (olaparib) and Talzenna (talazoparib) for HER2-negative breast cancers with a BRCA gene mutation
  • Piqray (alpelisib) for treating postmenopausal women or men with hormone receptor (HR)-positive, HER2-negative, PIK3CA-mutated, advanced or metastatic breast cancer following progression on or after an endocrine-based regimen.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to boost, target, or restore immune system function.

For breast cancer, immunotherapy might be used when the cancer is advanced, if it has certain characteristics like being triple negative, or if it has spread to other parts of the body.

Coping and Support

A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Coping with the shock, fear, and myriad of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis can be challenging. Some key coping strategies include:

  • Learning enough about breast cancer to make decisions about your care
  • Asking about your prognosis
  • Talking with other breast cancer survivors
  • Letting your friends and family help you
  • Making time for yourself

Many women also find it helpful to join a support group where they can share their feelings and experiences with others who are going through the same thing. The American Cancer Society and other organizations offer support programs for people with cancer and their families.

Outlook

The outlook for breast cancer depends on many factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the age and overall health of the patient, and how well the cancer responds to treatment.

With today’s breast cancer treatment options, survival rates for breast cancer are improving all the time. When breast cancer is detected early, it can often be treated successfully.

Take Charge of Your Health Today

Don’t wait to take control of your health. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and experience the difference that personalized, compassionate care can make. Our friendly staff is ready to assist you.

Call us now at 972-668-8300 or send an email to info@friscowomenshealth.com. Your well-being is our top priority.

Frequently Asked Questions

Breast cancer awareness in womens

1. What are the early signs of breast cancer?

Early breast cancer symptoms may include a lump in the breast, changes in breast shape, dimpling of the skin, nipple discharge, or a red scaly patch of skin. However, these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer. If you have any signs that worry you, see your doctor right away.

2. How can I reduce my risk of breast cancer?

While you can’t prevent cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Don’t smoke
  • If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about the risks
  • Breastfeed, if possible

3. What are the stages of breast cancer?

Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV, with 0 indicating non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and IV indicating cancers that have spread to other parts of the body. Stages I through III describe cancers that have invaded surrounding breast tissue to varying degrees.

4. What are the survival rates for breast cancer?

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. For example, the 5-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 91%. But remember, survival rates are estimates and can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case.

5. How can I support someone with breast cancer?

If someone you love has breast cancer, your support can play an important role in their healing journey. Some ways to show your care include offering to go with them to appointments, cooking healthy meals, sending cards, or simply listening when they want to talk. Remember, each person’s cancer experience is unique, so let your loved one guide you on what they need.

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