What is Breast cancer | Sing & symptoms, stages, Causes

What is Breast cancer | Sing & symptoms, stages, Causes

What is Breast cancer | Sing & symptoms, stages, Causes

1. Breast cancer An overview:

In fact the least is known to people in general and the breast cancer patients in particular living mainly in the developing as well as less developed world. that October is the month of the campaign for breast cancer. The campaign starts on the 1st  October and ends on the 31st  October every year in order to offer information and extend support to the affected patients of breast cancer. Further, the campaign educates people about the importance of early screening test.

The need  for  the campaign throughout the month of October lies in the fact that breast cancer is the 2nd  most common cancer for the females. And one of the most dreadful malignancies in the world. Another alarming fact is  that, despite having anatomical differences, males also can fall a victim to breast cancer regardless of the fact that males do not have milk producing breasts. But still their breast tissues and cells can develop cancer.


2. What is breast cancer:

Breast cancer is the incontrollable growth of breast cells eventually leading to formation of tumor mass of abnormal tissues.


3. Causes and risk factors:

Changes of mutations in DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid, It is a hereditary characteristics in humans and other organisms) can cause normal breast cells to become cancerous. Certain DNA changes are passed on from the parents (inherited) and consequently, can increase the likelihood for breast cancer.

Other life style related risk factors (such as what/ when/ where and how much is consumed including the habit of physical exercise developed as well as quality of sleep enjoyed) also influence the chance of developing cancer. However, how much of these risk factors are responsible to cause normal cells to become cancerous is still unknown.

Women having certain special risk factors are more likely to develop breast cancer (as compared to men). The major risk factors that increase the chances of breast cancer are enumerated below.


3.1)  Avoidable risk factors:


       3.1.1)  Radiation   exposure (Radiation is an energy that travels in the form of waves or high speed particles. It occurs naturally in the sunlight. Man made radiation is used In the X- rays, nuclear weapons and nuclear  power plants  and additionally, in cancer treatments. If exposed even to a small amount of radiation for a long time it may cause cancer of various types.)

       3.1.2) Obesity (It indicates the excessive body fat  that invites the high risk of malignant diseases like diabetes , heart disease in addition to cancer of various types including breast cancer.)

       3.1.3)  Smoking and alcohol (No other bad habits are as harmful as theses 2 expensive bad habits. Only on account of smoking related diseases 1 person dies in the world in every 10 seconds i.e. 3.16 million deaths annually according to the report of the World Health Organization  2015.)

       3.1.4) Processed meat (Examples are Bacon sausage,  luncheon meats, hot dogs).

       3.1.5) Red meat (It includes  beef,  pork, lamb).


3.2)  Unavoidable risk factors:

       3.2.1) Gender (Breast cancer occurs mostly in case of female)

       3.2.2) Aging (As one ages the risk of falling  prey to any malignant disease including breast cancer becomes  higher)

       3.2.3)  Previous record (One having past history of breast problems or breast cancer faces higher risk of developing breast cancer in the later stage of life).

       3.2.4) Inherited genes (It can increase the risk of one’s  developing breast cancer.)


4. Breast Cancer Signs and symptoms:

The first sign of breast cancer is the lump in the breast or under arm that persists after menstrual cycle. Usually it is painless, although it may feel prickly sensation. Lumps are usually detected by the mammography test (It is a screening tool to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptom in the initial stage. Mammography is also used  to detect and diagnose other breast related diseases in women experiencing symptoms. such as lump pain, skin dimpling or nipple discharge.)

Among the symptoms (which are subjective phenomena, unlike signs) are:

       4.1) Swelling of all parts of the breast (even if no distinct lump is seen or felt.)

       4.2) Skin irritation of dimpling (sometimes looks like an orange peel) is experienced.

       4.3) Breast or nipple pain is felt.

       4.4) Nipple retraction (turning inward) is observed.

       4.5) Redness in breast.

       4.6) Dense breast tissue.

       4.7) Early onset of menstruation.

       4.8) Late  menopause  (Menopause is the time that occurs in most women’s lives when menstrual periods stop permanently. As such they are no longer able to bear children. Normally it occurs between the age 49- 52 years.)

Additional symptoms that are observed mainly in stage- 1 include:

       4.9) Bloody nipple discharge.

       4.10) Inverted nipple.

       4.11)  Swollen lymph nodes (Lymph nodes are small clumps of immune cells that act as filters for the lymphatic system) in the neck or armpit.

       4.12) A change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple.


5. Types of Breast Cancer:


5.1)    DCIS ( Ductal  Carcinoma in Situ)

‘Carcinoma’ means cancer and ‘in situ’ means in the original place. So ‘DCIS’ implies that the cancer cell growth starts  from the milk duct. It is a common type of breast cancer which remains within the ducts as non- invasive cancer or, it can overstep the bound of ducts.[1]


5.2)    IDC ( Invasive Ductal Carcinoma)

It is also called infiltrating ductal carcinoma. It is the most common  type of breast cancer. About 80%  of breast cancers  are  invasive which spread into surrounding tissues.

       5.2.1) Tubular Carcinoma of Breast:

It is a subtype of IDC that begins from the inside of the breast milk duct. Subsequently spreads to the adjacent healthy tissues and looks very small in size.

       5.2.2)  Medullary  Carcinoma of Breast: Like ‘Tubular Carcinoma of Breast’. It is also a subtype of IDC and begins from inside the breast milk duct. But it is less aggressive.

       5.2.3)  Mucinous  Carcinoma of  Breast: It is also a subtype of  IDC. But it is rarely found. Under microscope, the cancer cells  look scattered

       5.2.4)  Papillary Carcinoma of Breast: It is also a subtype of IDC. But with treatment it displays good prognosis.


5.3)  ILC ( Invasive Lobular Carcinoma)

The breast cancer begins in the breast producing glands (lobules) of the breast. "Invasive" implies that the cancer cells have broken out of the lobule (where they began from) and have higher risk to travel to the lymph nodes and other areas.


5.4)  Cribriform Carcinoma:

It is a slow growing carcinoma and the cancer cells resemble normal cells with favorable prognosis. But pure invasive cribriform is possible to develop ‘breast cancer of stage- 4’.


6. Stages and consequent spread of breast cancer and stage wise treatments:

The stage of cancer in general and breast cancer in particular indicates the size of the tumor of abnormal cells and additionally. It indicates whether or not these cells are staying in the place of origin.


6.1) Stage- 0 breast cancer

Although, at this stage the breast cancer is considered non- invasive, but still the abnormal cells  can be found in the lining of the breast milk duct which has not yet spread beyond the duct. Even at this stage it does require   immediate treatment, typically surgery or radiation or the both. However at this stage chemotherapy is not needed.


 6.2)  Stage- 1

In this stage breast cancer is evident. But it is confined only within the area wherefrom the cancer cells started to develop. The carcinoma detected in this stage can be healed effectively by surgery or radiation or combination of the both.  However, additionally, hormone therapy may be needed depending on the type of breast cancer as well as the risk factors found (Hormone therapy is also known as SERD  i.e. ‘ Selective Estrogen Receptor Degrader’. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone  are produced by glands in the body. These hormones normally help regulate  body cycles like menstruation. However, the same hormones can cause cancer to grow. The pathologist usually performs the test on the suspected breast cells to determine. If the breast cells have receptors that feed on estrogen or progesterone stimulating their growth.

If the cancer cells have these receptors. Then the doctor may recommend hormone therapy drugs. such as   blockers or inhibitors. Both the drugs destroy the cancer cells by cutting off the hormone supply. Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproduction system. Progesterone is an endogenous steroid and a female sex hormone produced mainly in the ovaries following ovulation each month. Receptor is an organ or cell able to respond to light, heat and other external stimulus and as such transmits a signal to sensory nerve).

       6.2.1) Stage- 1A: In this sub stage the tumor is found smaller than 2 cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes.

       6.2.2)  Stage – 1B: In this sub stage the lymph nodes have cancer evidence with very small clusters of    cells (2.0 mm)


6.3)  Stage- 2

In this stage the near by lymph nodes will need to be checked by SLNB ( Sentinel Lymph Nodes Biopsy) or ALNB  (Auxiliary Lymph Node Biopsy). Treatments are  administered  normally with  BCS (Breast  Conserving Surgery). After the surgery, the women are usually treated with radiation therapy (the therapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells). However, if chemotherapy (the therapy is generally given intravenously) is needed after surgery, radiation is delayed  until chemo is done.


6.4)  Stage- 3

In this stage the tumor increases to more than 5 cm (2 inches) in size that gets into near by tissues and even spreads across many near by nodes. Stage – 3 breast cancer also includes inflammatory breast cancer (It is a rare but aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breasts) that has not spread nearby lymph nodes. Treatment of these cancers can be slightly different (from other stage- 3 breast cancers) which usually starts with chemotherapy.

There are  mainly 2 approaches for treatment of stage – 3 breast cancer as stated below:

  • 6.4.1) Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: This is done before surgery. The treatment may shrink the tumor enough to have BCS (Breast Conserving Surgery). If the tumor does not shrink, mastectomy (It is a medical term for the surgical removal of one or both the breasts in order to treat the breast cancer or reduce the risk of further deterioration of carcinoma) is administered. Which also checks the near by lymph nodes. In this stage, often the radiation therapy is needed after surgery.

  • 6.4.2) Surgery: In this stage breast cancer becomes fairly large and spreads into nearby tissues. Surgery is usually followed by adjuvant chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy or trastuzumab. Radiation therapy may also be needed after surgery.


6.5) Stage- 4

Before focusing on the treatment procedures. It is essential at first to highlight the development as well as the symptoms that arrive one after another in this stage which are:

  • Skin changes like dimpling or ulceration.

  • Nipple discharge.

  • Swelling of breast or arm.

  • Large hard palpable lymph nodes under the arms or neck.

  • Pain or discomfort.

In stage- 4 most women suffering from breast cancer are treated with systemic therapy  (It can be infused intravenously or given as injection or taken orally and before or after surgery. Systematic therapy usually includes: targeted drugs, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy) or with some combination of surgery and radiation therapy.


7. Survival Rate of Breast cancer

The implication for survival rate is explained  thus :

For a particular stage, if the breast cancer patients have survival rate 70% (i.e. to survive at least for 5 years after diagnosis), then it implies  that, the chances of survival (at least for 5 years after diagnosis) for the breast cancer patients is 30% less as compared to the people who do not nave breast cancer.

       7.1) Survival rate (Stage- 0): The survival rate is 100% (to survive at least for 5 years after diagnosis).

       7.2) Survival rate (Stage- 1): Survival rate is near 100% (at least for 5 years after diagnosis).

       7.3) Survival rate (Stage- 2): Survival rate is  93% (at least for 5 years after diagnosis).

       7.4) Survival rate (Stage- 3): Survival rate  is  72% (at least for 5 years after diagnosis).

       7.5) Survival  rate (Stage- 4): Survival rate is  22% (at least for 5 years after diagnosis).

       7.6) For all breast cancer patients, average survival rate (at least for 5 years after diagnosis) is 93% (same as  stage- 2). It declines to  83% ( when survival is assumed  at least for 10  years after diagnosis)


8. Recurrence Rate of Breast cancer:

Recurrence rate implies the percentage of patients of all types experiencing regional or local breast cancer recurrence (even after administering surgery, radiation therapy etc).

       8.1)  1.7% ( Local recurrence within 5 years)

       8.2)  1.2% ( Local recurrence after 5 years)

       8.3)  0.8%  (Chest wall recurrence within 5 years)

       8.4)  0.4%  (Chest wall recurrence after 5 years)


9. Precautionary measure and mass awareness :

“Forewarned is fare armed “ – runs the old adage which holds true in case of everyone of us in order to remain alert. And aware against any risk or possibility of being attacked by the malignant diseases including breast cancer. As precautionary measure, one needs to follow some health rules and develop some healthy habits such as staying physically active and not being obese or overweight (through eating healthy foods and avoiding the junk and unhealthy foods including expensive bad habits like smoking and alcohol). Additionally, it is essential to develop a healthy life style like enjoying a quality sleep and rising early in the morning to take regular physical exercise. Further, any abnormal look in the breast or feeling pain or uneasiness should immediately be brought to the notice of the oncologist.


10. Key world statistics:

  • 10.1) Breast cancer is mostly a feminine disease. Globally, out of 100 breast cancer patients on average, there are found 99 females against only 1 male patient.

  • 10.2) During the period 2010- 14, for the diagnosed breast cancer patients, average age was found 62 years. It was found 55- 64 years for female.

  • 10.3) Most of the carcinoma cases occur in case of male  (over 60 years). In case of female  (over 50 years)

  • 10.4)  About 80% of breast cancer cases are IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma).

  • 10.5)  Over 0.5 million women died of breast cancer all over the world in 2011 (According to Global Health Estimates of World Health Organization, 2013).

  • 10.6)  About 50% among breast cancer patients and 58% deaths occur in less developed countries.

  • 10.7)  As for the breast cancer patients, average survival rate is the highest (80%) in the developed countries (Notably, North America, Sweden and Japan ). 60% in the middle income countries and only 40% in the less developed countries.

Key Global Message: Although globally, average mortality rate is declining in case of breast cancer. But the  disease still remains a top malignancy particularly among the females in the developing. And the less  developed countries where majority of the cases are diagnosed in the stage when it is too late.


11) Concluding remarks:

       11.1) To fight  breast cancer, treatments and drugs with specified doze. Frequency will depend on gender, age, general health condition, stage as well as extent of the cancer spread, test results etc.

       11.2) It is known on all hands that “prevention is always better than cure”. But still the fact remains that there is no 100% guarantee to prevent any malignant disease including breast cancer. However, the chances of malignancy can be minimized to a significant level by developing a healthy lifestyle through consuming healthy and nutritious foods as well as cancer prevention drugs in addition to regular physical workout preferably after getting up from bed early in the morning.

       11.3) For rapid reduction of death rate caused by breast cancer. Mass awareness always plays a very crucial role. In this connection constant hammering on TV, radio, mass media (in addition to holding seminars, symposiums on regular basis) is needed to increase awareness. Mass awareness efforts additionally includes massive drive against smoking and alcohol. These 2 expensive bad habits give birth to all malignant diseases all over the world including breast cancer. Moreover, drugs and medicines as well as other treatment methods , although prevent and cure carcinoma to some extent. But veritably they involve huge costs in terms of both money and side effects. So precautionary measure including mass awareness is the best option.



       11.4) Researchers all over the world have been working hard to prevent. Detect and treat breast cancer in order to improve the quality of life of the breast cancer patients and the survivors. The major research areas are mainly determinate in reduction of breast cancer risks. Developing effective testing methods and more importantly. Developing treatment quality and standard to minimize overall death rate caused by carcinoma. However, the fruits and benefits of constant research are determinate only in  the developed world (Notably USA) due to amazing inventions in treatment methods, such as mammographic screening and early detection procedure as well as availability of improved therapies and more importantly, easy access to healthcare services.

But sadly, in the developing and the less developed world. The treatment quality and more importantly. The access to healthcare facilities by the general public is lagging far behind. This obviously puts a retardation on the average life expectancy of the people in general.

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