The breast is a gland that consists of milk ducts, lobes, fatty tissue, and lymph vessels.
Breast cancer commonly develops in women, but in some instances, can also develop in men. Although all women are at risk for developing this disease, the risk increases after the age of 40.
There are other factors that can predispose development of breast cancer. Some of these include:
- Early onset of the first menstrual cycle
- Not having children
- Having a first child after age 30
- Not breastfeeding
- Late menopause
- Use of hormone replacement therapy
- Family or personal history of breast cancer
Monthly breast self-examinations should be done to familiarize yourself with your breasts so you will become aware of any abnormalities that may occur.
In menstruating women, these exams should be done a week after the beginning of each monthly menstrual cycle.
For non-menstruating women, a day of the month should be selected and the exam done every month on that day.
In addition to monthly self-exams, a yearly breast exam should be performed by your healthcare provider.
Mammograms, low-dose x-rays of the breast, are done to assist in detection of abnormalities, which could be indicative of the early stages of breast cancer.
They should be performed yearly after the age of 40; however, family history and other factors will be taken into consideration by your physician when recommending at what age and how often a mammogram should be done.
In some instances, an abnormality found on a mammogram may be followed up by an ultrasound (sonography) exam to further evaluate the findings. It can also used in conjunction with a needle-biopsy of breast tissue.
Signs and Symtoms
- A lump or thickening in the breast or the armpit
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling of the breast skin
- Nipple discharge or tenderness
- Darkening of the nipple area
- Change in color or feel of the breast skin
Any of these changes should be reported to your physician
Types of Breast Cancer
There are several types of breast cancer, the most common being Ductal Carcinoma. This type of cancer develops in the ducts that carry milk from the milk glands to the nipple.
There are two types of ductal carcinoma, intraductal carcinoma in situ and infiltrating ductal carcinoma .
Intraductal carcinoma in situ is a form of breast cancer that, although it spreads to other ducts within the breast, provided it is detected and treated at an early stage, does not spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment differs for this type of cancer depending on the amount of cancer cells present and the number of ducts that are involved.
Infiltrating ductal carcinoma accounts for the majority of breast cancer cases. This type of cancer develops in the milk ducts but invades other tissues in the breast.
This is a slow-growing type of cancer and it can be months or years before a lump is detected through a breast exam.
If not detected early, this type of cancer can spread to the lymph nodes and then spread to other areas of the body by way of the lymphatic system or the blood.
Another type of infiltrating ductal cancer is inflammatory carcinoma. In this type, the breast becomes extremely painful and the skin becomes thick, reddened and looks inflamed.
This cancer spreads very quickly through the blood and lymphatic system. A biopsy is usually done to determine if the symptoms are cancer-related or a benign condition.
Survival from breast cancer requires early detection and treatment. All women should take the initiative of performing monthly self-exams, having yearly breast exams by their physician, and mammograms performed as recommended.