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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women. It can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women. Substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped create advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths associated with this disease is steadily declining, largely due to factors such as earlier detection, a new personalized approach to treatment and a better understanding of the disease.





Breast Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells in breast tissue change(or Mutate) and keep reproducing. These abnormal cells usually cluster together to form a tumor. A tumor is cancerous(or Malignant) when these abnormal cells invade other parts of the breast or when they spread to other parts of the breast or when they spread to other areas of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, or network of vessels and nodes in the body that plays a role in fighting infections.


How breast cancer spreads

Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and are carried to other parts of the body. The lymph system is a network of lymph (or lymphatic) vessels found throughout the body that connects lymph nodes (small bean-shaped collections of immune system cells). The clear fluid inside the lymph vessels, called lymph, contains tissue by-products and waste material, as well as immune system cells. The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid away from the breast. In the case of breast cancer, cancer cells can enter those lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes. Most of the lymph vessels of the breast drain into:


Lymph nodes under the arm (axillary nodes)


Lymph nodes around the collar bone (supraclavicular [above the collar bone] and infraclavicular [below the collar bone] lymph nodes)


Lymph nodes inside the chest near the breast bone (internal mammary lymph nodes)


If cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that the cells could have traveled through the lymph system and spread (metastasized) to other parts of your body. The more lymph nodes with breast cancer cells, the more likely it is that the cancer may be found in other organs. Because of this, finding cancer in one or more lymph nodes often affects your treatment plan. Usually, you will need surgery to remove one or more lymph nodes to know whether the cancer has spread.


Still, not all women with cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases, and some women with no cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases later.



The first symptoms of breast cancer are usually an area of thickened tissue in the breast, or a lump in the breast or in an armpit.


Other Symptoms include:

  • A pain in the armpits or breast that does not change with the monthly cycle

  • Pitting or redness of the skin of the breast, like the skin of an orange

  • A rash around or on one of the nipples

  • A discharge from a nipple, possibly containing blood

  • A change in the size or shape of the breast

  • Peeling, flaking or sealing of the skin on the breast or nipple.

Risk Factors

Many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors. Other than simply being woman. Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer includes

  • Being female

  • Increasing age

  • A personal history of breast conditions

  • A family history of breast cancer

  • Inherited genes that increased cancer risk

  • Radiation exposure

  • Beginning  menopause at an older age

  • Having never been pregnant

  • Drinking alcohol


Prevention of breast cancer

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but some lifestyle decisions can significantly reduce the risk of breast and other types of cancer. These include

  • Avoiding excess alcohol consumption

  • Following a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables

  • Getting enough exercise

  • Maintaining a healthy body mass index(BMI)


Breast Cancer Stages

Stage is usually expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV — with stage 0 describing non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and stage IV describing invasive cancers that have spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.

Stage 0

Stage I

Stage II

Stage III

Stage IV


Treatment for breast cancer

There are several ways to treat breast cancer, depending on its type and stage.


Local treatments: Some treatments are local, meaning they treat the tumour without affecting the rest of the body. Types of local therapy used for breast cancer include:

  • Surgery

  • Radiation therapy


Systemic treatments: Drugs used to treat breast cancer are considered systemic therapies because they can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. They can be given by mouth or put directly into the bloodstream. Depending on the type of breast cancer, different types of drug treatment might be used, including:

  • Chemotherapy

  • Hormone therapy

  • Targeted therapy


Many women get more than one type of treatment for their cancer.


Culled from Staywellworld blog post dated December 8, 2016.

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Image by Jan Kopřiva
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