According to the CDC, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the US. Thanks to the development of new treatments, research, and awareness, death rates and incidence rates have declined in women. However, breast cancer is still an issue today. Breastcancer.org states that in 2022, about 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men, while 287,850 cases will be diagnosed in women. Therefore, the fight is far from over. In this blog, we seek to continue to raise awareness of this disease.
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that can start in one or both breasts. Cancer cells in the breast begin to grow and divide uncontrollably, which then leads to a tumor. The cancer cells can then spread from the primary site into other parts of the body (making it harder to treat).
What Are the Types of Breast Cancer?
There are many types of breast cancer. These include:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma– Invasive ductal carcinoma starts at the milk ducts and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. It can also spread to other parts of the body. This type of cancer is one most common types of breast cancer, making up about 80% of all cases.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (aka Stage 0 breast cancer)– With this type of breast cancer, the cells have still not spread to the milk ducts (making it non-invasive or pre-invasive). At this stage, the condition is treatable- however, it needs immediate treatment to prevent it from becoming invasive.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma– Invasive lobular carcinoma forms at the lobules of the breast (where milk production takes place). Being classified as invasive means that the cancer cells have spread to the surrounding breast tissue. It can also spread to other parts of the body. Invasive lobular carcinoma accounts for 10%-15% of breast cancers.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ– It is considered a precancerous condition where there are abnormal cells in the lobules of the breast. However, those abnormal cells could become cancerous later on. People with this condition are highly encouraged to have regular clinical breast exams and mammograms.
- Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)– TNBC is an aggressive type of invasive cancer that is difficult to treat. These cancer cells lack estrogen or progesterone receptors and don’t make too much HER2 protein. Thus, it makes prognosis and treatment difficult. It also tends to spread faster. TNBC makes up about 15% of breast cancer cases.
- Inflammatory breast cancer– Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer. People with this type of cancer usually have redness, swelling, pitting, and dimpling on the nipple and surrounding area. These symptoms result from cancer cells blocking lymph vessels of the skin. Inflammatory breast cancer account for 1%-5% of all breast cancers.
- Paget’s disease of the breast– This type of cancer starts at the breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and then the dark circle around the nipple (areola). It is another rare form of breast cancer, and it accounts for 1%-3% of all breast cancer cases.
- Angiosarcoma– Angiosarcoma starts in the cells that line the blood vessels or lymph vessels. From there, it can affect the tissue or skin of the breast. It is rare and accounts for less than 1% of breast cancer cases.
- Phyllodes tumor– Phyllodes are rare breast tumors that develop in the connective tissue of the breast. Some are benign (non-cancerous), but others are malignant (cancerous).
What Are the Starting Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Keep in mind that signs and symptoms of breast cancer can vary from woman to woman (and what stage they have). Some possible signs of breast cancer may include:
- Change in the size or shape of your breast.
- A mass or lump in the chest that feels like a small pea.
- A lump or thickening tissue near your breast or underarm (that persists through your menstrual cycle).
- Dimpling, scaliness, inflammation, or puckering of the skin on your breast or nipple.
- Redness on your breast or nipple.
- A blood-stained or clear build discharge from your nipple.
- Have pain or a pulling sensation on the nipple or nipple area.
Keep in mind that some of these symptoms may signify another condition. It is also important to note that not everyone may notice any signs of breast cancer at all (especially in the early stages). For example, most breast cancers do not cause pain in the breast or nipple area. Or pain may also be associated with other reasons (such as menstrual cycles) or non-cancer breast conditions. If you have any concerns or questions, we highly encourage you to talk with your doctor and keep up with your routine mammograms.
What Are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer risk factors out of your control:
- Age: Being 55 and older increases your risk.
- Sex: Women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
- Reproductive history: Starting your menstrual periods early or going through menopause later can increase your risk. This increased risk may result from being exposed longer to estrogen and progesterone hormones throughout your lifetime.
- Having dense breast tissue: Dense breast tissue can make it more difficult for mammograms to detect cancer.
- Family history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast diseases
- Genetics: A common cause of hereditary breast cancer are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Other genes can also increase your risk of cancer (but BRCA1&2 are the most common).
- Radiation exposure from prior radiation therapy
Lifestyle-related Breast Cancer Risk Factors:
- Not being physically active
- Being overweight or obese: After menopause, estrogen comes from the fat tissue. Therefore, having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase your chances of developing breast cancer.
- Taking hormones
- Drinking alcohol
- Taking birth control (due to some birth control methods using hormones)
- Having breast implants: Getting breast implants has been linked to a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma- which can form in the scar tissue around the implant.
- Not having children: Studies show that women who have not had or had their first child after age thirty increase their risk.
- Breastfeeding: More studies need to be done, but some suggest that it can decrease your chances.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy that increases your levels of estrogen may also increase your risk.
- Alcohol use
How Is Breast Cancer Detected?
When meeting with your doctor, they will most likely perform a breast examination and ask about your family history, medical history, and any symptoms you may be experiencing. From there, your doctor may then choose to perform a couple of tests to figure out what is going on. These tests include:
- PET scanning
- Biopsy (removal of cell or breast tissue to be sent to the lab for analysis)
- A biopsy usually occurs if your healthcare provider finds anything suspicious or abnormal in any of the tests you completed.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated?
The good news is that advancements in medical technologies, research, and treatments have made various treatment options available. Some of these treatments include:
- Breast cancer surgery
- Keep in mind that different types of surgery depend on your situation.
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
What Are the Various Stages of Breast Cancer?
- Stage 0
- Considered to be non-invasive (is not spreading)
- Has not spread outside of the breast ducts
- Stage I
- Cancer cells have spread to the surrounding breast tissue
- Stage II
- The tumor is smaller than 2cm and has spread to underarm lymph nodes
- Or tumor is 5cm but has not spread to underarm lymph nodes
- Stage III
- Cancer has spread beyond the initial site and may have invaded nearby tissue and lymph nodes
- Cancer has not spread to distant organs yet
- Considered to be a more advanced type of breast cancer
- Stage IV
- Cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of your body (such as bones, liver, lungs, or brain)
- It is also known as metastatic breast cancer
- Symptoms depend on where cancer has spread to
Can Men Get Breast Cancer?
While breast cancer most often occurs in women, it can also develop in men. One must keep in mind that men also have breast cells and tissue. It is a rare occurrence in men in comparison to women, but men still have 1 in 833 risks of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. They also have a higher mortality rate because the stigmatization of breast cancer often causes men to dismiss a lump (which leads to a delay in treatment).
Some Risk Factors that may increase a man’s chance of developing breast cancer include:
- Getting Older: Cancer is more common in people aged 50 and older.
- Genetic mutations: Having specific genes (such as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2) can increase your risk.
- Family history of breast cancer.
- Radiation therapy treatment: Your risk of breast cancer increases, especially if men have received radiation therapy around the chest area.
- Hormone therapy treatment: Drugs containing estrogen can increase a man’s chance of developing breast cancer.
- Klinefelter syndrome: People with this rare genetic condition have an extra x chromosome, which can cause the body to produce higher levels of estrogen.
- Conditions that affect the testicles: Conditions, injury, swelling, or surgery that leads to the removal of the testicles can increase someone’s chance of developing breast cancer.
- Liver disease: Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver can lower androgen (hormone that helps in the development of male traits) levels and raise estrogen levels.
- Overweight and obesity (especially in older men).
Breast cancer in men usually appears as a hard lump under the nipple and areola. Other common symptoms include:
- Redness or flaky skin in the breast area
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Nipple discharge
- Pain or pulling session in the nipple area
If you find a lump within the chest area or experience any of these symptoms, we highly encourage you to schedule an appointment to see your healthcare provider.
How Can I Minimize My Risks of Developing Breast Cancer?
It is not possible for you to completely diminish your chances of developing breast cancer in your life. However, you can take action to reduce your risk and/or ensure that you discover something early while successful treatment is still possible. You could:
- Get routine mammograms: It is recommended that you start at age 35. From there, you are expected to get one every year after age 40.
- Self-examine your breasts after age 20: Look at your breasts in the mirror to look for changes or abnormalities. Also, feel around your breasts to see if you feel anything out of the ordinary. It is highly recommended that you do a self-exam at least once a month.
- Go to your scheduled appointments and have your breast exam-mend by a healthcare provider: Start getting clinical breast exams once after age 20, then every year after age 40. These exams can detect lumps that may not be found through mammograms.
If you know you have an increased chance of developing breast cancer, you may want to consider:
- Genetic counseling and testing of breast cancer risk
- Taking medication to lower breast cancer risk
- Preventative surgery
- Keeping aware and be on the attentive lookout for any early signs of breast cancer
Breast cancer still affects many women (and men) around the world. We hope to have provided enough information to understand this disease. We also hope to have raised awareness on what you should look out for and the steps you can take to minimize your chances of developing breast cancer (or o at least detect it early). If you have any concerns, questions, or suspicions- schedule an appointment as soon as possible to speak with your healthcare provider. We understand that this disease can be scary if you or a loved one has been diagnosed. We encourage you to seek support from friends, family, or even a local support group. You are not in this alone.