Breast cancer is cancer that develops in the cells of the breast as a result of mutations of the genes that regulate cell growth.
About breast cancer
Second, only to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women in this country. Most cases of breast cancer are due to genetic changes that occur as a result of hormonal, environmental or lifestyle factors. Only a small percentage – 5 to 10 percent – of breast cancers are caused by abnormal genes inherited from family members.
The vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in women. Men are not immune to the disease, but only about one percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer are men.
Signs & symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer symptoms are wide ranging and include the following:
- Lump in the breast
- Skin changes such as dimpling, peeling, flaking, redness or change in texture
- Thickening of breast tissue
- Nipple changes including discharge, inversion or tenderness
- Swelling or shrinkage, particularly of one breast
While many non-malignant breast changes can cause similar symptoms, a physician should evaluate any changes or abnormalities in your breast.
Breast cancer examination
The sooner breast cancer is discovered and treatment initiated, the more likely it can be cured. The best way to recognize early changes is by getting to know your own breasts. There are two kinds of breast exams: self and clinical.
Not all breasts are the same. By understanding what is normal for you and your breasts, the more likely you are to recognize changes. Performing monthly breast self-examination is the best way to spot changes. Be sure to feel for lumps and changes while standing.Work your way around the breast in a circular motion feeling for lumps or thickening, then repeat the same steps while lying down. Finally, visually examine your breasts in a mirror looking for changes in size or shape or other abnormalities.
A clinical breast exam is one done by your gynecologist or primary care physician at annual health check visits. Any suspicious changes are typically evaluated with further testing.
Breast cancer screening & diagnostic testing
Mammograms are low dose x-rays that are done to identify breast changes and suspicious areas. They can identify breast lumps when they are too small to be felt. Mammograms cannot distinguish which lumps are cancerous, so further testing may be needed if a lump is found. The vast majority of lumps and suspicious findings discovered on mammogram are not cancerous.
Mammograms are recommended every one to two years for all women over age 40. The screening may be suggested for women younger than 40 who have risk factors for breast cancer.Ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positive emission tomography (PET) scans and biopsy are other diagnostic measures that may be used to identify breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment
Tremendous progress has been made in breast cancer treatment in recent years. There are a number of life-saving treatments currently available and new treatments are being researched and tested.
Breast cancer treatment is determined by the type of cancer, stage of the disease, tumor size and any specific traits or features of the tumor. Age and existing health conditions patients have also play a role in treatment selection.
Some breast cancer treatment options include the following:
- Surgery – lumpectomy (breast conserving surgery) or mastectomy and lymph node dissection are surgical options that may be recommended
- Chemotherapy – medications that weaken or destroy cancer cells
- Radiation therapy – high-energy beams, light beams or x-ray that targets tumors
- Hormonal therapy – hormonal medications that block or reduce estrogen in hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers
- Targeted therapies – treatments that target specific features of certain cancer types
Some patients find alternative therapies such as holistic or complementary medicine therapies help reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, but these approaches have not been found to effectively treat cancer. Patients who are interested in alternative therapies should consult doctor about the benefits and limits of these therapies.