Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast.
Breast cancer can happen in men and women, but it’s far more common in women. And occurs when 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.
If the tumor is cancer, it may grow into (invade) nearby tissues or spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
There are different stages of breast cancer, which range from 0 to IV.
The stages describe how far cancer has spread. The lower the number, the less it has spread. While the higher the number, the more it has spread
There are also different types and grades. The type of cancer is determined by the kind of cell growing out of control.
While the grade is determined by how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope.
Who Is Mainly Affected?
While breast cancer can happen in men and women, it is far more common in women.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop it in their lifetime.
Breast cancer can occur at any age, but the risk increases as you get older. The average age of diagnosis is 61 years old.
What Race Is Most Affected?
White women are more likely to develop breast cancer than women of other races.
African American women have the second highest risk, followed by Hispanic/Latino women, Asian/Pacific Islander women, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
In the United States, breast cancer is the most common in women aged 35-54. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
Types of Breast Cancer
Several types of breast cancer are categorized by the type of cell growing out of control.
The most common type is ductal carcinoma, which starts in the milk ducts.
Other types include:-
- Ductal carcinoma: is the most common type, accounting for about 80% of all cases. It starts in the milk ducts and can be either in situ (non-invasive) or invasive.
- Lobular carcinoma: This type of breast cancer starts in the milk lobules and accounts for about 10% of all cases. It can be either in situ (non-invasive) or invasive.
- Inflammatory: accounts for about 1-5% of all cases. It starts in the breast tissue and is almost always invasive.
- Triple-negative: This type of cancer harms the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2/neu. It accounts for 10-20% of all cases and is more common in African American women.
- Paget’s disease of the breast: This is a rare type of breast cancer that starts in the nipple and accounts for about 1-5% of all cases. It is more common in older women.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ: starts in the milk lobules but does not spread outside the lobules. It is non-invasive and accounts for about 1-5% of all cases.
There are four grades of breast cancer, with grade 1 being the least aggressive and grade 4 being the most aggressive.
- Grade 1: The cancer cells are small and uniform in size.
- Grade 2: The cancer cells are more significant and less uniform in size.
- Grade 3: The cancer cells are large and have an abnormal shape.
- Grade 4: The cancer cells have spread to other body parts. They may also be aggressive in their growth.
Can it Form in Other Parts of the Breast?
Cancer can also form in other breast parts, such as the lymph nodes, blood vessels, and fatty tissue. This is known as metastatic breast cancer.
These types of cancer are not expected. Examples include:
- Angiosarcoma: forms in the blood vessels of the breast. It is rare and accounts for about 1% of all breast cancers.
- Phyllodes tumor: starts in the breast’s connective tissue. It is rare and accounts for about 1% of all breast cancers.
The early signs of breast cancer are often hard to detect.
This is because the cancer is usually small and does not cause any symptoms.
However, there are some early signs that you should be aware of, such as a change in the size or shape of the breast, a change in the skin of the breast, a lump in the breast, or a discharge from the nipple.
If you notice any of these changes, you should see a doctor for a breast exam.
We have another post where we have comprehensively covered everything you need to know about the early signs of breast cancer.
You can check it out if you want to know how to detect your breast cancer at an earlier stage.
The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown. However, some risk factors can increase your chance of developing the disease, such as:
- Age: The risk of breast cancer increases as you age. The majority of breast cancers are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.
- Family history: If you have a family member who has had breast cancer, you have a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Personal history: If you have had breast cancer in the past, you have a higher risk of developing the disease again.
- Dense breast tissue: Women with dense breast tissue have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Dense breast tissue is harder to detect on a mammogram and may be more likely to develop cancer.
- Certain genetic mutations: such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Exposure to certain hormones: Women exposed to high levels of estrogen, such as through hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, have a higher risk of developing it.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity is a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Women who are obese have a higher risk of developing the disease, especially after menopause. Obesity can also make it harder to detect breast cancer early.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in various ways, depending on the size and location of the tumor and the stage it is in.
Some of the most common ways to diagnose breast cancer include:
- A physical exam: The doctor will look for any changes in the breast, such as lumps, size or shape, or skin changes.
- Mammogram: An X-ray of the breast that can help show tumors that are too small to feel.
- Ultrasound: A test that uses sound waves to create a picture of the breast. This can determine if a lump is a solid tumor or a fluid-filled cyst.
- Magnetic resonance Imaging(MRI): A test that uses magnetic waves to create a picture of the breast. This is often used to look for tumors that are hard to see on a mammogram.
- Biopsy: The removal of a small amount of tissue to be examined under a microscope. This is the only way to know if a lump is cancerous.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning: This imaging test can sometimes be used to diagnose breast cancer. It is not as common as other tests, such as mammograms or ultrasounds.
- The breast cancer index test: is a genetic test that can help predict a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. The test looks at a woman’s DNA to identify changes in two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are known to increase the risk of breast cancer. The test can also help predict how likely a woman will respond to specific treatment types if she develops breast cancer.
How Is it Treated?
Breast cancer treatment depends on the stage, type, grade, and the patient’s age and health.
There are various types of cancer treatment available, including:-
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. The type of surgery depends on the stage.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells. It is often used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often used in addition to surgery and radiation therapy.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is a treatment that lowers the levels of hormones, such as estrogen, in the body. It is often used to treat hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets specific molecules in cancer cells. It is often used to treat HER2-positive breast cancers.
Your doctor will discuss these treatment options to determine which is best for your situation.
Learn More: Types of Cancer Treatments.
There are four stages of breast cancer: stage 0, stage I, stage II, and stage III.
- Stage 0: This is the earliest stage of breast cancer. At this stage, the cancer is non-invasive and is limited to the breast ducts or lobules.
- Stage I: At this stage, the cancer is small and has not spread outside the breast.
- Stage II: is a more advanced stage of breast cancer. The cancer is more extensive and may have spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage III: is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. The cancer is large and has spread to the lymph nodes and other tissues.
- Stage IV: is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. Cancer has spread to other body parts, such as the liver, lungs, or brain. It is also called metastatic breast cancer.
There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer from spreading, but there are some things that you can do to lower your risk.
If you notice anything unusual, such as a lump, you should see a doctor for a breast exam.
- Get a mammogram every year starting at age 40: Mammograms are x-rays of the breast that can often detect tumors too small to feel. You should get a mammogram every year starting at age 40.
- Do monthly self-breast exams: You should do a monthly self-breast exam to check for any changes in your breasts. You should also see a doctor for a breast exam at least once a year.
- Have your breasts examined by a healthcare provider: You should have your breasts reviewed by a healthcare provider at least once a year.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can expect treatment from a team of specialists.
This team may include a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, and a surgeon.
You will likely have regular appointments with your care team to discuss your treatment plan and how you are doing.
Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.
Your treatment will depend on the stage, type, cancer grade, age, and health.
What Is the Survival Rate?
According to the American Cancer Society’s estimates for 2022, about 1,918,030 new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer deaths are expected to occur in the United States.
An estimated 1,806,590 men and 1,931,440 women will be diagnosed with cancer.
In 2022, an estimated 610,750 men and 598,610 women will die of cancer.
The survival rate for breast cancer depends on the stage. The good news is that the 5-year survival rate has increased from 74% in 1989 to 90% today.
This means that 9 out of 10 women diagnosed with it will live at least five more years. The 10-year survival rate is also increasing and is now 83%.
Several things contribute to the increasing survival rates. First, there is earlier detection through screening mammograms at its earliest and most treatable stage.
In addition, there have been advances in treatment, including new targeted therapies and immunotherapies that are more effective and have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.
Even with the survival rates increasing, it is still the second leading cause of cancer death in women (after lung cancer).
It is essential to continue to make breast cancer a priority in research so that we can find even more effective treatments and, eventually, a cure.
What Can I Do To Lower My Risk?
You can do many things to lower your risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Avoid smoking
- Avoiding exposure to known or suspected carcinogens
- Undergoing regular breast cancer screenings
You should see your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a lump, discharge from the nipple, or a change in the size or shape of the breast.
- American Cancer Society. (2019, March 5). Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2019-2020. cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2019-2020.pdf
- National Cancer Institute. (2020, March 27). Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq
- Mayo Clinic. (2019, November 26). Breast Cancer: Symptoms and Causes. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352470
- Cleveland Clinic. (2019, September 25). Breast Cancer. my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17495-breast-cancer
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, February 26). Breast Cancer. hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/breast-cancer
- Susan G. Komen. (2020, March). About Breast Cancer. komen.org/BreastCancer/AboutBreastCancer.html
- National Breast Cancer Foundation. (2020, March). Breast Cancer Statistics. nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-statistics
- Breastcancer.org. (2020, March). Breast Cancer Statistics for African-American Women. breastcancer.org/risk/factors/afam