Posted on October 09 2018
If you are just beginning your search on breast cancer, you've come to the right place. Today, in our ongoing series on breast cancer, we are going to go back to basics. What is breast cancer? What are the different types? Are there any warning signs or symptoms? Can men develop breast cancer? And lastly, what are the basic facts and statistics? These are all topics that we will explore on today's blog in hopes of continuing to spread awareness and information about this disease that everyone should know.
Back to Basics: Facts and Statistics
Many changes occur in your breasts during your lifetime. Throughout puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, the look, anatomy, and function of your breasts change. Learning about breast anatomy and how they function can be beneficial in understanding which changes are normal and which are not. Let's explore some statistics first.
Did you know? In 2018, it is estimated that 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be found in women, and sadly, there will be 40,920 breast cancer deaths among those women. A tremendously high number for this time period.
In 2018, there will also be 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer found in men, resulting in 480 breast cancer deaths. Though the number is drastically lower, breast cancer still does not discriminate by gender.
What is Breast Cancer?
As we know, cancer occurs when the natural systems in the body don't control the creation, growth, and death of cells. When cells don't die at a normal rate, this results in more cell growth than cell death. This excess growth can form a tumor.
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast divide and grow without their normal control. Tumors in the breast tend to grow slowly, and by the time a lump is large enough to feel, it may have been growing for as long as 10 years! However, that doesn't mean that some tumors aren't aggressive and can't grow much faster.
Between 50 to 75% of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts. About 10 to 15% begin in the lobules, and a few begin in other breast tissues.
Types of Breast Cancer
- Non-invasive breast cancer - ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): DCIS occurs when abnormal cells grow inside of the milk ducts, but have not spread to nearby tissue or beyond. DCIS is a non-invasive breast cancer. You may also hear the terms "pre invasive" or "pre-cancerous" to describe DCIS. Although DCIS is non-invasive, without treatment, it can develop into invasive breast cancer. In 2018, it's estimated that more than 50,000 cases of DCIS will be diagnosed.
- Invasive Breast Cancer: Invasive breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells from inside of the milk ducts or lobules spread to nearby breast tissue. Cancer cells can travel from the breast to other parts of the body through the blood stream or the lymphatic system. They may travel early in the process when a tumor is small or later when a tumor is large. If breast cancer spreads, the lymph nodes in the underarm area are the first place it's likely to go.
- Metastatic Breast Cancer: Also called Stage IV or advanced breast cancer is invasive breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and axillary lymph nodes to other organs in the body. Most often, it will spread to the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. Metastatic Breast Cancer is not a specific type of breast cancer, but rather the most advanced stage of breast cancer.
- Breast Carcinomas: In rare cases, other types of cancer such as lymphomas (cancer of the lymph system) and sarcomas (cancer of the soft tissues) can occur in the breast. Cancers from other parts of the body can spread to the breast and mimic breast cancers. Other types of tumors in the breast can be benign as well, which means that treatment is different from those tumors that are malignant.
In upcoming blog posts, we will take a more in depth look at these types of breast cancers, and what they mean, as well as treatment options.
Know the Warning Signs
Due to the regular use of mammography screening, most breast cancers in the United States are found at an early stage, before any warning signs appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography.
The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women, but the most common signs are:
- A change in the look or feel of the breast
- A change in the look or feel of the nipple
- Nipple discharge
Other warning signs include:
- A lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly, sore, or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that begins suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn't go away
*Note: in most cases, these changes are not cancer. One example is breast pain. It is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to get it checked. If the change does turn out to be breast cancer, it's best to find it at an early stage, when the chances of survival are greatest.
Another example is breast lumps, or lumpiness. Many women find their breasts feel lumpy, but breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. Some women have more lumpiness in their breasts than others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry. If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it's likely normal breast tissue.
Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast or other breast, or that feel like a change, should be checked. This type of lump may be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition. Keep in mind that if you've had a benign lump in the past, don't assume a new lump will also be benign. It's ALWAYS best to get it checked.
Lastly, with nipple discharge, while it can be troubling, it's rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body's natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed. It can also be caused by an infection or other condition that needs treatment.
When to Seek a Doctor
Seek a health care provider if you:
- Find a new lump or any change that feels different from the rest of your breast
- Find a new lump or any change that feels different from your other breast
- Feel something unusual from what you felt before
- Experience nipple discharge without squeezing the nipple
- If the discharge only occurs in 1 breast
- If the discharge is bloody or clear - not milky
Understanding Breast Cancer Survival Rates
We will touch more on survival rates in upcoming blog posts as well, but for now, here are the basics on breast cancer survival rates.
Chances for survival vary by stage of breast cancer. Non-invasive (stage 0) and early stage invasive breast cancers (stages I and II) have a better prognosis than later stage cancers (stages III and IV).
Cancer that has not spread beyond the breast has a better prognosis than cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. The poorest prognosis is for metastatic breast cancer - or, stage IV, when the cancer has spread beyond the lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
Please join us for the rest of this month as we continue our series on Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Awareness. Show your support and awareness by sharing these facts and information with your loved ones.