WHO reports that breast cancer is the most popular type of cancer among women.
The organization records that it affects 2.1 million women annually. It is also the cause of the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women.
Breast cancer is more prevalent among females, but in rare cases, it can occur in men too.
It goes without saying that there is a need for adequate education on breast cancer before knowing the signs of breast cancer.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer where the cells in the breast grow out of control and form a tumor that can be seen on an x-ray or felt as lumps in the breast.
The human breast is made up of three main parts; the lobules (produce the breast milk), duct (transfers the milk from the lobules to the nipples) and the connective tissues connect all the parts together.
Cancer usually begins in the duct or lobule and can sometimes, spread to other parts of the body through the blood vessels and lymph vessels in a process called metastasized.
Some breast lumps are non-cancerous. Non-cancerous lumps are growths that do not grow outside the breast and they are not fatal. However, some of these non-cancerous lumps can increase the risk of cancer.
This is why it is important to immediately visit a health practitioner if you notice lumps to determine if the lumps are cancerous or not or if the non-malignant lumps increase the risk of cancer in the future.
It is also important to note that not all breast cancer types cause lumps in the breast. So, a periodical health check is important for early detection.
Common Types of Breast Cancer
#1: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
It is also known as Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. Cancer begins in the milk duct and spreads to the fibrous tissue of the breast outside the milk duct. It is the most common type of breast cancer, found in approximately 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses and the most common type that affects men.
#2: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)
Described as the earliest stage of breast cancer, DCIS also starts at the milk duct of the breast but unlike IDC, it is non-invasive. DCIS is highly treatable because it has yet to spread and is still in the original place (in situ). However, if it is left untreated, it can spread outside the milk duct to the connective tissue of the breast.
#3: Metastatic Breast Cancer
This is the type that has spread beyond the breast or nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body. It usually spreads to the brain, liver, lungs or bones. Cancer can spread through the blood vessels or lymph vessels; it can spread when a healthy cell is taken over to replicate other abnormal cells; when cancer cells are transported through the bloodstream or the lymph system to other parts of the body; when cancer cells remain in the capillaries and move into nearby tissues or when new small tumors develop in the new location, through a process called micrometastases.
#4: Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
These types of breast cancer test negative to the three most popular types of receptors known to cause most breast cancer growth (estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein). So, it is more difficult to treat, spreads faster as well and more likely to reoccur. The Triple Negative Breast Cancer occurs in about 20% of all breast cancer diagnoses and younger people, African-Americans and Hispanics have been said to have a higher risk.
#5: Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
IBC is a very rare type of breast cancer and occurs only around 1-5% of a breast cancer diagnosis. IBC spreads to the skin and lymph vessels of the breast but produces no distinct lump that can be isolated. However, the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin, causing the breast to look inflamed. It also causes itches and rashes as well as reddened and swollen breasts. IBC spreads rapidly and aggressive treatment is usually required.
Other uncommon breast cancer types include Tubular Carcinoma (cancer cells feel like spongy instead of lumpy and older women are at a higher risk), Medullary Carcinoma (might appear as spongy change of breast tissue instead of lumps), Mucinous Carcinoma (comes with mucus production) and Mammary Paget Disease (affects the nipple and areola).
Major Causes of Breast Cancer
Research has not found distinct causes yet but there are certain known risk factors.
History: Individuals who have a history of breast cancer, who have had non-cancerous cancer lumps and those with a history of cancer on other parts of the body are at risk of breast cancer.
Genetics: People who carry the breast cancer gene 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are prone to breast cancer. This is why breast cancer examination is important, especially if someone in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Age: The older you are, the higher your risk of breast cancer.
- Gender: Women are more prone than men.
- Alcohol: People who consume alcohol are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer than teetotalers.
- Obesity: Obesity is said to increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Oestrogen: Women who start their period early or start their menopause late are more prone because estrogen levels are high between these periods.
- Radiation Exposure: Radiation treatment for different cancer, especially in the chest area can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Pregnancy: Women who have never been pregnant stand a higher chance of getting breast cancer than women who have.
- Breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed are at a lower risk, especially breastfeeding for over a year.
- Hormone treatments: Hormone treatments, including oral contraceptives, may increase the risk of breast cancer.
The Early Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Although they vary, the most common signs of breast cancer are:
- Lumps in the breast or underarm
- Rashes or irritation
- Nipple discharge that isn’t breast milk
- Swelling and reddening of any part of the breast
- Pain in the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
If you see any of these signs, see a doctor immediately.
Breast cancer treatments can be done as a combination of surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation or targeted therapies if detected early.