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Breast Cancer: Causes Symptoms And Treatment

Posted On: January 27, 2020

Breast Cancer: Causes Symptoms And Treatment

For the past few decades, the dangers of breast cancer have raised serious alarm around the world, especially among women. Breast cancer, however, has been considered to be the most common invasive cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women all over the world, after lung cancer. This occurs as a result of cellular changes causing uncontrolled growth and division of cells.

This malignancy disease can be curable in 70 to 80% of patients with early-stage detection, non-metastatic disease. While advanced breast cancer with distant organ metastases is considered incurable with the currently available medications. According to the report by World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer accounts as the most common type of cancer among women, affecting about 2.1 million women every year, thereby causing the greatest number of cancer-related death among women. About 627,000 women were estimated to have died of breast cancer in 2018 alone, which is approximately 15% of all cancer death among women.

Hence, the American Cancer Society (ACS), estimated more than 3.1 million patients with breast cancer survivors in the United States, making the chance of the women dying from breast cancer to be around 1 in 38 (2.6%). Thus, early detection can be an added advantage in the improvement of breast cancer outcomes and prevention. This can be easily achieved through constant diagnosis and screening of invasive breast cancer.

The Nature of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can be described as a disease that causes cells in the breast to grow out of control. This results from a disruption of certain cells which leads to the multiplication of cells and most often form a mass called a tumor. In most cases, breast cancer development takes several months or even years. The majority of breast cancers have a good prognosis.

The development of breast cancer majorly starts from cells in the mammary gland. Most often, the cells involved belong to the milk ducts, which collect milk or to the lobules where milk is produced. Early detection of this disease is a crucial aspect of breast cancer prevention as it contributes to the effective control of the disease. Presently, about 80% of patients with breast cancer are still alive five years after the diagnosis of their disease, and the chances of recovery or long remission are greater the earlier the disease is detected.

The risk of developing breast cancer is higher after menopause. Hence, there are different kinds of breast cancer, which depends on which cells in the breast are affected and turned into cancer. While the two major kinds of breast cancer include Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) and Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)

Types of Breast Cancer

Two kinds of breast cancer are the most common among women worldwide. These includes:

  • Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS): This kind of breast cancer occurs as a result of the cancer cells growing outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. These are generally known as cancers that starts inside the milk ducts. They are also called non-invasive cancer because it has not spread from the milk duct to other parts of the breast. This kind of breast cancer is less threatening but likely to lead to invasive cancer.
  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) or Infiltrating Cancers: This is the most common type of breast cancer in women across the globe. In the case of invasive ductal carcinoma, cancer cells are spread from the milk ducts to all other parts of the breast tissues close by. They can also spread to other parts of the body.

However, there are other types of breast cancer, much rarer such as spinal, papillary or tubular cancers. Breast cancers are also distinguished according to their stage of development. As long as cancer cells remain confined to a milk duct or a lobule, we speak of cancer in situ. When tumor cells begin to invade the surrounding tissue, cancer becomes invasive or invasive.

In some rare cases, breast tumors are not in the form of a palpable mass, like a lump in the breast. They are diffuse and cause symptoms of an inflammatory type (pain, redness, heat, swelling, etc.).

Causes of breast cancer

Several known risk factors lead to breast cancer. However, in most cases, it is impossible to explain the reasons for its occurrence in a particular person. Of mutations in genes, passed from one generation to another or acquired during life; maybe through exposure to radiation or certain toxic chemicals, all these can cause breast cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, for example, are genes for susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer. Women who carry mutations in these genes have a very high risk of breast cancer.

Symptoms of breast cancer

The symptoms of breast cancer are varied in individuals, and sometimes absent. That is why it is advisable to always take a medical step whenever you experience any abnormality in the breast. From the very start when they begin to grow, breast tumors show a few symptoms. The more they develop, the more they manifest.

However, a lump in the breast is the most obvious symptom of breast cancer. Though breast cancers are recently detected earlier than before thanks to advances in screening, cancers are detected at an increasingly early stage, on mammography, even before it is obvious appears. There are other symptoms of breast cancers such as:

  • The appearance of a lump (ball) in the breast or armpit
  • Deformation within the breast.
  • lymph nodes in the armpit.
  • A change in texture or pigmentation of the skin of the breast or areola.
  • The appearance of abnormal discharge from the nipple.

It is highly advisable not to hesitate to consult your doctor or a gynecologist if you noticed any of the above symptoms. These symptoms can also correspond to benign pathologies and only a professional can make the difference, most often thanks to the results of additional examinations.

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Treatment and Prevention of Breast Cancer

The treatment of breast cancer is based on multiple factors and requires the collaboration of different specialists: surgeons, oncologists, etc.

In the initial stages, treatment usually begins with surgery and continues with radiotherapy. At present, in some cases, the possibility of starting earlier with neoadjuvant treatment that can facilitate breast conservation is offered.

The therapy that is applied depends on many factors, including the stage or stage in which the tumor is found, whether or not there is metastasis, the size of cancer and also how the cancer cells are. With the classification made by the doctors, the size of the tumor, the affected lymph nodes and the degree of metastasis or spread to other organs, if any, are established. The most widely used is the TNM system, created by the American Joint Cancer Committee. Each letter refers to a characteristic that is defined with a number:

  • T (size): Followed by a number from 0 to 4, this refers to the size of the tumor, the larger the cancer, the larger the number.
  • N (nodules): From 0 to 3, this refers to the lymph nodes that are affected by cancer cells.
  • M (metastasis): Followed by a 0 or 1. It indicates whether cancer has spread (1) or not (0) to other organs.

While other popular treatments of breast cancer include;


The surgery is used to remove the tumor and analyze the axillary ganglia. Thus, there are two types of surgery options for breast cancer:

  • Conservative: The specialist will remove the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around it. As some researches indicate, this option helps to conserve the breast in general. It requires that after the operation radiotherapy be administered to eliminate the tumor cells that remain in the breast. This option can be done depending on the size of the tumor, the breast, and the patient’s wishes.
  • Mastectomy: Here, the specialist will remove the entire breast. Under these circumstances, patients can rebuild the breast. This option can be done by removing the breast or after finishing all treatments. The right time depends on several factors related to the treatment and preferences of the patient.

Sentinel Node Biopsy

The sentinel node is the first lymph node where the tumor can spread. To locate it, the specialist will inject a blue dye near the tumor that will flow through the lymphatic vessels until it reaches the nodes.

The procedure that the professional will follow is to remove the first lymph node that receives the substance and check if the tumor has arrived. If the tumor has spread to the ganglion, the lymph nodes will have to be removed. This technique is not indicated or applied in all circumstances.


Radiation therapy is used to prevent tumor cells from growing or for destroying them. This act systematically takes place when the breast is kept, to treat the rest of the breast, but can also occur following an ablation.

It can be used as adjuvant therapy, which involves specialists recommending it as a local treatment to eliminate possible tumor cells that remain after surgery, or palliative therapy, which is used to relieve the symptoms of bone or lymph node involvement.

Systemic therapy

Unlike surgery or radiotherapy, systemic therapy does not act locally, this treatment affects the entire organism. It is administered orally or intravenously and distributed to all organs. The objective of this treatment is to reduce the risk of relapse in disease and death.

The three most commonly used types of systemic therapies are chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapies. The use of each option depends on the type of breast cancer and the risk of relapse of the patient.

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be necessary in the case of a more aggressive tumor, the absence of hormone receptors on the tumor or the involvement of the nodes. The side effects of chemotherapy are heavy and involve hair loss, reduced immunity, significant fatigue, early menopause. It takes about 6 to 8 sessions spaced three weeks apart. Besides, pre-operative chemotherapy can be administered to reduce the size of the tumor to avoid removal of the breast, or for the most aggressive tumors.
  • Anti-hormonal treatment (hormone therapy): In general, adjuvant treatments are administered to prevent recurrence and the proliferation of metastatic cancer cells. Anti-hormone therapy is prescribed in the form of tablets. It is about blocking the production of estrogen, knowing that two-thirds of breast cancers are hormone-dependent.
  • Targeted therapies: Targeted therapies can be prescribed, in addition to chemotherapy, but they are only intended for women with certain breast cancers.


Breast cancer as a pathology develops from the cells of the mammary gland and has been considered to be the most common invasive cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women all over the world, after lung cancer. The chances of surviving this disease mainly depend on the type of cancer and its stage of development when treatment is started. Various factors influence the speed at which a tumor will grow. Hence, limiting and proper control of breast cancer can be best achieved through constant screening and diagnosis.

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