What Is the Leading Cause of Breast Cancer?
There is no single cause for breast cancer. The main/leading cause may also not be the same for everyone. Therefore, we must understand the multiple factors that can increase the chances of someone developing breast cancer in their life. Keep in mind that the causes of breast cancer will vary between risks one can and cannot control.
Risks that you cannot control include:
- Gender: Men can also get breast cancer. However, this disease is generally more common in women.
- Age: As women age, the risk of developing breast cancer increases.
- Family history: Having a family history of breast cancer does not mean that someone will definitively get this disease. However, one should be aware that they are at a higher risk. According to the American Cancer Society, women who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) have a double probability of having breast cancer.
- Genetics: The American Cancer Society also states that about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are believed to be the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer. Of course, other genes can also play a role.
- Getting your period at a young age: Having an early period can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. This increase in risk may be because one is exposed longer to hormones to estrogen or progesterone.
- Going through menopause at an older age: Going through menopause at a later stage may mean that you have gone through more menstrual cycles. As a result, prolonged exposure to estrogen and progesterone can increase your risk.
- Having dense breast tissue: Having denser breast tissue can increase your risk because it may make it harder to detect cancer in mammograms. Age, menopausal status, the use of certain drugs (including menopausal hormone therapy), pregnancy, and genetics can affect breast density.
- Radiation exposure: Going through treatments that require radiation exposure to the chest area may also increase your risk (specially if the exposure occurred at a younger age).
- Having a personal history of breast conditions: Some benign (non-cancer) breast conditions can increase someone’s risk of breast cancer (i.e., fibromatosis, adenosis, benign phyllodes tumors, etc.). Meanwhile, breast conditions such as atypical hyperplasia lead to a moderately increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Risks that you can control include:
- Alcohol: Like with other cancers, consumption of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese: Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase one’s risk. Studies have also shown that being overweight after menopause increases the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
- Keeping active- Physical activity influences body weight, inflammation, and hormone levels. Keeping active can lower one’s risk.
- Smoking: Like many other cancers, smoking can increase the risk of developing in women (especially if they are postmenopausal).
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Studies show that breastfeeding can lower one’s risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding tends to limit a woman’s total number of lifetime menstrual cycles. Not having children or having children after the age of 30 can also raise one’s risk.
- Birth control: Some studies suggest that the increase of hormones from taking various forms of birth control can increase one’s risk.
- Menopausal hormone therapy: The two main types of hormone therapy include combined hormone therapy and estrogen replacement therapy. The use of estrogen in these therapies increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Breast implants: Breast implants have been linked to breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, other lymphomas, and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers mainly form around the scar tissue.
Does Stress Cause Breast Cancer?
There have been studies that show a link between stress and breast cancer. However, it is not clear if breast cancer directly results from stress. Stress is known to have an effect on the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems- which weakens the defenses and leaves one more vulnerable to diseases.
Some theories may link a rise in breast cancer risk to the fact that stress leads to higher levels of norepinephrine hormones (aka stress hormones). Norepinephrine may hasten the formation of new blood vessels- which can hasten the spread of cancer. Stress is also linked with insomnia- which affects the outcome of survival rates among women.
Stress can also indirectly play a role in the development of breast cancer. Stress can impact our lives and the choices we make in terms of our lifestyle. Thus, developing unhealthy habits (such as consuming too much alcohol or eating fast food)-can raise our risk of cancer.
What Emotions Can Cause Breast Cancer?
Studies have shown that anxiety and depression can affect the reoccurrence or mortality outcome in patients. It is also believed that anger and emotional trauma can also have a possible impact on the development of cancer. This occurrence may be because emotional traumas and anger are feelings that lead to high-stress hormones. However, more research needs to be done on this subject.
Does Lack of Sleep Cause Breast Cancer?
Some studies suggest that not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of developing cancer. According to Breastcancer.org, a study published in August 2012 in the issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found a significant link between lack of sleep and raised re-occurrence of breast cancer in women. In this study, researchers looked at 101 records of women diagnosed with early-stage, estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. They looked at their Oncotype DX scores (which analyze a group of 21 genes and help doctors assess someone’s risk of developing early-stage, estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer and its likelihood of re-occurring. They also compared it to how many hours of sleep each woman reported. Researchers found that higher Recurrence Scores were linked to fewer hours of sleep per night (especially in postmenopausal women). While the link is not yet fully understood- some doctors think it has to do with low melatonin levels. Lower melatonin levels may lead to patterns of breast cell growth and repair that make breast cancer more likely to develop. Sleep deprivation can also cause low-grade inflammation- which is often linked to many types of cancers.
How Can I Keep My Breast Healthy?
There are many steps you can take to help keep your breasts healthy. Some actions you can take may include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: There appears to be a link between fat tissue, estrogen, and menopause. Those with more fat tissue (especially after menopause) are at a higher risk of having a faster progression of breast cancer. This event can be attributed to estrogen-sensitive breast cancer tissues being exposed to more estrogen than those who have a lower weight.
- Exercising: Finding enjoyable ways to move your body can help strengthen your Immune system, help maintain a healthy weight, and lower estrogen and insulin levels. Exercise can also help strengthen bone mass- which is essential in cancer survivors who have undergone treatment. Try aiming for more than 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity for at least 5 days of the week.
- Staying hydrated and eating a healthy and balanced diet: always aim to have a healthy and well-balanced plate each meal. Consider following or incorporating a Mediterranean diet into your meals.
- Limiting alcohol consumption: As stated above, overconsumption of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Taking Vitamins: Studies link vitamin D deficiency with a higher risk of developing breast cancer- or having it reoccur. Aim to have plenty of safe sun exposure, and consider talking with your doctor about taking supplements if you have a concern.
- Be Vigilante: Be aware of any changes you may notice around the breast area. If you have any questions or concerns- we highly recommend you meet up with your doctor.
What Are the Stages of Breast Cancer?
Stage 0 breast cancer refers to no-invasive breast cancer contained within the milk ducts. In this stage, there is no evidence of cancer or non-cancer cells spreading to other parts of the breast or body- meaning that cancer has not spread outside the membrane and is considered carcinoma in situ. This stage is 100% curable with surgery since it is still contained.
Stage 1 does involve invasive breast cancer cells that have affected surrounding breast tissue. This stage is split into two categories:
- Stage IA: In this stage, the tumor should measure about 2cm and has not spread outside of the breast (has not affected the lymph nodes)
- Stage IB: In this stage, the tumor cannot be larger than 2cm, and there is a small cluster of cancer cells (sizing between 0.2 to 2mm) in the lymph nodes. Or, there can be no tumor and only a small cluster of cancer cells (sizing between 0.2 to 2mm in the lymph nodes.
Stage 2 is split into the following two categories:
- Stage IIA: There can be a tumor that measures up to 2cm and has spread to the auxiliary lymph nodes (found under the arm) or is greater than 2cm but no larger than 5cm and has not spread to the auxiliary lymph nodes. There can also be a small cluster of cancer cells (larger than 2mm) that have spread to 1 to 3 auxiliary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes near the breastbone.
- Stage IIB: The tumor should be larger than 2cm but no larger than 5cm and has spread to 1-3 auxiliary lymph nodes (or to the nodes near the breastbone). Or there is a tumor larger than 5cm but has not spread to the lymph nodes. A small cluster of cancer cells (sizing between 0.2mm to 2mm) may also be found at the lymph nodes.
Meanwhile, Stage III can be split into the following three categories:
- Stage IIIA: In this stage, the tumor can be of any size- or there does not have to be one. However, cancer can be found in 4 to 9 auxiliary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes in the breastbone area. The tumor can also be greater than 5 cm and a small cluster of cancer cells (sizing between 0.2mm to 2mm) in the lymph nodes. There can also be a tumor larger than 5cm, and cancer has spread to 1 of 3 auxiliary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes in the breastbone area.
- Stage IIIB: In this stage, the tumor can be of any size and has spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast (causing swelling or an ulcer). Cancer may have also spread up to 9 auxiliary lymph nodes or lymph nodes near the breastbone area. Other typical features include: skin reddening around the chest area, breast feeling warm and swollen, and spreading to the lymph nodes found in the skin.
- Stage IIIC: In this stage, there may be no signs of a tumor- or there is a tumor of any size that has spread to the chest wall and/or skin of the breast. At this stage, cancer has spread to 10 or more auxiliary nodes or the lymph nodes above or below the collarbone. Cancer may have spread to the auxiliary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes near the breast bone.
In this stage, invasive breast cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs (i.e., lungs, other lymph nodes, bones, liver, etc.).
What Happens in Stage 1 of Breast Cancer?
In Stage 1, invasive breast cancer cells are present but still contained in the area where these cells first appear. As mentioned above, Stage I breast cancer can split into two categories: IA and IB.
In Stage IA, the tumor measures about 2cm and has not spread outside of the breast (has not affected the lymph nodes). In Stage IB, the tumor cannot be larger than 2cm, and there is a small cluster of cancer cells (sizing between 0.2 to 2mm) in the lymph nodes. Or, there can be no tumor and only a small cluster of cancer cells (sizing between 0.2 to 2mm in the lymph nodes. However, early detection means that it can be effectively treated.
Is Stage 1 Breast Cancer Curable?
One can effectively treat stage I breast cancer because it is detected early. Treatment generally consists of surgery or radiation (or a combination of the two). Hormone therapy is also a possible option where it blocks estrogen from attaching to the tissue or fueling cancer growth. There is also chemotherapy (which affects the whole body)- or targeted therapy (which targets a specific area). However, surgery and/or radiation are often efficient enough.
What Does Breast Cancer Looks Like on Ultrasound?
An ultrasound is an imaging test that does not involve radiation and can detect lumps not found in mammograms. This test sends high-frequency sound waves into a specific area. One can determine the size, shape, and consistency of the foreign object by measuring the echo waves. From there, the computer can generate an image used to diagnose tumors and masses. Ultrasounds can also determine whether the foreign object is solid or fluid-filled. How a tumor looks on an ultrasound will also depend on the individual and what stage of cancer they are in.
Will Breast Cancer Show Up in Routine Blood Work?
Blood tests are typically not used to diagnose breast cancer. However, routine blood work can detect if there is an issue involving your health. If the doctor feels anything is amiss, they can follow up to see what is wrong.
What Breast Cancer Looks Like on a Mammogram?
A standard mammogram will have a black background, and the breast tissue will appear grey and black. The breast tissue will mainly show up as grey- with denser tissue showing up as white. A lump or tumor will show up as a concentrated white area. However, other conditions can also account for why a dense white area appears in a mammogram.
What Is the Prognosis When Breast Cancer Spreads to the Bones?
Cancer spreading to the bone is known as bone metastases. According to Know Breast Cancer, studies suggest that the average 1-year survival rate for people with metastatic bone cancer is 49-59%. However, 28% of people with distant breast cancer may live another 5 years. People with bone metastases must take care of because they are at high risk of developing serious bone complications. Treatment cannot cure these conditions- but it can help ease pain, strengthen bones, and slow progression.
Overall, we highly encourage you to seek medical help and advice from your doctor if you suspect anything is amiss with your health. By playing an active role in staying aware of your breast health, you can increase the probability of catching anything early. Detecting cancer early also means that you have a higher chance of effective treatment.
If you would also like to find out more about this disease, we highly encourage you to look into the Febo health toolbox app. Through our app, you can connect with others going through the same journey. You would also have access to our newsfeed, which has the latest medical news validated by medical sources.