Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is an annual campaign to increase awareness of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. 

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. The abnormal cells in the breast begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a tumor.

Breast cancer can start from different parts of the breast. 

  • Most common is Ductal Carcinoma, which begins in milk ducts i.e. the pathways that carry milk to the nipple
  • Lobular Carcinoma, which develops in Lobules i.e. the glands that produce breast milk
  •  It can also occur in the fatty tissue or the fibrous connective tissue within the breast

Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized.

Let us go over various stages of Breast Cancer, Early Signs, Risk Factors, Prevention Tips and Treatment Options

Breast Cancer Awareness

 

What are the various stages of Breast Cancer?

There are five main stages of Breast Cancer based on the size of the tumor and its spread.

    • Stage 0: It is the earliest breast cancer stage. At this stage, cancer cells remain confined to lesion only and have not spread into nearby tissue. 
    • Stage 1: The primary tumor measures upto 2 centimeters and no lymph nodes are affected. Stage 1 is divided into two categories as follows:
      • Stage 1A: At this stage, The tumor measures 2 cm or smaller and has not spread outside the breast.
      • Stage 1B: At this stage, small clusters of cancer cells are found in nearby lymph nodes, and either there is no tumor in the breast, or the tumor is smaller than 2 cm. 
    • Stage 2: At this stage, the cancer cells have spread beyond the original location and into the surrounding breast tissue, and the tumor is larger than in stage 1 disease. Stage 2 is divided into two categories as follows:
      • Stage 2A: At this stage, any of the following applies:
        • There is no tumor within the breast, but cancer has spread to the axillary (armpit) lymph nodes, or
        • The tumor in the breast is 2 cm or smaller and the cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes, or
        • The tumor in the breast measures 2 cm to 5 cm but the cancer has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.
      • Stage 2B: At this stage, the tumor measures 2 cm to 5 cm, and cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes, or the tumor is larger than 5 cm but cancer has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.
    • Stage 3: Also known as locally advanced breast cancer. Stage 3 breast cancer is divided into three categories:
  • Stage 3A: At this stage, the tumor is 5 cm or smaller, or no tumor can be seen in the breast. Cancer cells are found in 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes, or in internal mammary lymph nodes but not in axillary lymph nodes. Or the tumor is larger than 5 cm. Cancer has also spread to 1 to 9 axillary lymph nodes or to internal mammary lymph nodes. Or it may have spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes and internal mammary lymph nodes.
    • Stage 3B: The tumor has grown into the muscles of the chest wall or the skin or both. Cancer may have also spread to 1 to 9 axillary lymph nodes or to internal mammary lymph nodes. Or it may have spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes and internal mammary lymph nodes.
    • Stage 3C: At this stage, any of the following applies:
      • Cancer has spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes below the collarbone.
      • Cancer has spread to more than 3 axillary lymph nodes and internal mammary lymph nodes.
      • Cancer has spread to lymph nodes above the collarbone.
  • Stage 4: Cancer can have a tumor of any size, and its cancer cells have spread to nearby and distant lymph nodes as well as distant organs such as to the bone, liver, lungs, or brain. This is also called metastatic breast cancer.

What are the early signs of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer may not cause any symptoms in the early stages and the first sign is usually a new lump or mass in the breast. 

Signs and Symptoms for the most common breast cancers may include:

  • A breast lump or tissue thickening
  • Change in the size, shape, or appearance of a breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
  • Pigmented, peeling, scaling, or flaking skin in the area around the nipple
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Pain in the armpits or breast 
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • A lump or swelling under the arm

What are the risk factors for Breast Cancer?

Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:

    • Gender: Women are more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
    • Increasing age: Risk for developing breast cancer increases with age. Most invasive breast cancers are found in women over age 55.
    • Personal history of breast cancer: If a woman had breast cancer in one breast, there is an increased risk of developing breast cancer in another breast or in a different area of the previously affected breast.
    • Family history: If a close female relative had breast cancer, there is an increased risk for developing it. 
    • Genes: Certain gene mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer can be passed from parents to children. The most well-known gene mutations are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2. 
    • Obesity. Being obese increases the risk of breast cancer.
    • Early menstruation: Having the first period before age 12 increases the risk of breast cancer.
    • Late menopause: Women who do not start menopause until after age 55 are more likely to develop breast cancer.
    • Having a first child at an older age:  Women who don’t have their first child until after age 35 have an increased risk of breast cancer.
    • Never being pregnant: Women who never became pregnant or never carried a pregnancy to full term are more likely to develop breast cancer.
    • Hormone therapy: Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer.
    • Drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Dense Breast Tissue: Women with more dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Radiation Exposure: Undergoing radiation treatment may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

What are the tips to reduce the risk of Breast Cancer?

The following steps may help reduce the risk of breast cancer. 

  • Discuss with the doctor about breast cancer screening such as clinical breast exams and mammograms.
  • Women may choose to become familiar with their breasts through breast self-exam for breast awareness.
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day.
  • Exercise most days of the week. 
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy as it may increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Choose a healthy diet.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment depends on several factors and may include

  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Disclaimer:

This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice or as a substitute for consulting a physician. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment from a healthcare professional.

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