Breast cancer is cancer that forms in cells of the breast. The breast consists of lobules (glands that make breast milk), ducts (small tubes that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple), fatty and connective tissue, blood vessels and lymph vessels.
The milk-producing ducts and glands are the two most likely areas to develop cancerous cells. In rarer cases, breast cancer begins in fatty tissues, also known as stromal tissues. Breast cancer may also occur in surrounding lymph nodes, especially those of the underarm.
Types of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer occurs in two broad categories: noninvasive and invasive.
- Noninvasive (in situ) breast cancer: Cancerous cells remain in a particular location of the breast, without spreading to surrounding tissue, lobules or ducts.
- Invasive (infiltrating) breast cancer: Cancerous cells break through normal breast tissue barriers and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymph nodes.
Breast cancer is also classified based on where in the breast the disease started (e.g., milk ducts, lobules), how the disease grows, and other factors. The tabs on the left provide an overview of some common types of breast cancer.
Some other types of breast cancer include, but are not limited to: Paget's disease of the nipple, sarcoma of the breast, medullary carcinoma, tubular carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma, metaplastic carcinoma, adenocystic carcinoma, phyllodes tumor and angiosarcoma.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Perhaps the most recognized symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue. While many women go to their doctor after finding a lump, they should also be aware of any other changes to the breast or nipple.
With the different types of breast cancer come a variety of related symptoms. For example, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which forms in the milk ducts, may cause a distinct breast lump that you can feel. Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which forms in the milk-producing glands, may cause a thickening in the breast.
Symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person. Some common breast cancer signs and symptoms include:
- Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
- An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
- Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- General pain in/on any part of the breast
- Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast
Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are as follows:
- Irritated or itchy breasts
- Change in breast color
- Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
- Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
- Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
- A breast lump or thickening
- Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Each year, more than 190,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of breast cancer in the United States has decreased by about two percent from 1999 to 2006. The reason for the decrease is not completely understood.
Knowing the risk factors for breast cancer may help you take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease.
- Aging: On average, women over 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Only about 10 – 15 percent of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45. However, this may vary for different races or ethnicities.
- Gender: Although nearly 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, breast cancer is 100 times more common in women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 190,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer annually.
- Family history: Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly women with a mother, sister or daughter who has or had breast cancer, may double the risk.
Inherited factors: Some inherited genetic mutations may increase your breast cancer risks. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common inherited causes. Other rare mutations may also make some women more susceptible to developing breast cancer. Gene testing reveals the presence of potential genetic problems, particularly in families that have a history of breast cancer.
- Obesity: After menopause, fat tissue may contribute to increases in estrogen levels, and high levels of estrogen may increase the risk of breast cancer. Weight gain during adulthood and excess body fat around the waist may also play a role.
- Not having children: Women who have had no children, or who were pregnant later in life (over age 35) may have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Breast-feeding may help to lower your breast cancer risks.
- High breast density: Women with less fatty tissue and more glandular and fibrous tissue may be at higher risk for developing breast cancer than women with less dense breasts.
- Certain breast changes: Certain benign (noncancerous) breast conditions may increase breast cancer risk.
- Menstrual history: Women who start menstruation at an early age (before age 12) and/or menopause at an older age (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk may be due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- A sedentary lifestyle: Physical activity in the form of regular exercise for four to seven hours a week may help to reduce breast cancer risk.
- Heavy drinking: The use of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Birth control pills: Using oral contraceptives within the past 10 years may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. The risk decreases over time once the pills are stopped.
- Combined post-menopausal hormone therapy (PHT): Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Combined HT also increases the likelihood that the cancer may be found at a more advanced stage.
- Diethylstilbestrol exposure (DES): Previous use of DES, a drug commonly given to pregnant women from 1940 to 1971 to prevent miscarriage, may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy may also have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure: Women who, as children or young adults, had radiation therapy to the chest area as treatment for another cancer have a significantly increased risk for breast cancer. Source
Another great resource? Dr. Oz's Ultimate Guide to Preventing Breast Cancer. Check it out and protect yourself NOW!