Breast Cancer Awareness
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about this disease that impacts so many lives. In the US alone, over 280,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year .
Early detection through screening and increased awareness of risk factors and symptoms can help save lives. This post will cover key aspects of breast cancer to empower you with knowledge.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control, forming a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) .
Benign tumors are not life-threatening. Malignant tumors are cancerous, invading nearby tissue and potentially spreading to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer usually starts in the milk ducts or lobules. Ductal carcinoma is cancer in the lining of the milk ducts and accounts for 70%-80% of breast cancers. Lobular carcinoma starts in the lobules, which produce milk .
Less common types of breast cancer include inflammatory breast cancer, Paget's disease, and triple-negative breast cancer.
Specific Types Of Breast Cancer
Over time, cancer cells can invade nearby healthy breast tissue and make their way into the underarm lymph nodes, small organs that filter out foreign substances in the body. If cancer cells get into the lymph nodes, they then have a pathway into other parts of the body. The specific types of breast cancer include:
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)
DCIS is a non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer where abnormal cells have been found in the lining of the breast milk duct. The atypical cells have not spread outside of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
IDC starts in a milk duct of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and invades the fatty tissue of the breast. Once the cancer cells invade beyond the ducts into other breast tissue,
they can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC)
ILC starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Like IDC, it can metastasize to other areas of the body.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
This rare and very aggressive cancer causes symptoms giving the appearance of inflammation, such as swelling, reddening, and warmth of the breast. The cancer cells block the lymph vessels draining the breast tissue, so the lymph fluid cannot drain properly.
Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
This term is used for breast cancers whose cells lack estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2 receptors. These cancers tend to be more aggressive and have fewer treatment options.
Her2-Positive Breast Cancer
About 1 in 5 breast cancers have an excess of HER2 protein, which promotes cancer cell growth. These cancers tend to be more aggressive but respond well to certain treatment drugs.
Breast Cancer Statistics And Facts
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women behind only skin cancers. It accounts for 30% of all new cancer diagnoses in women.
- About 1 in 8 U.S. women (13%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
- In 2023, an estimated 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women, along with 55,720 new cases of DCIS. 4. It is estimated that 43,700 deaths (43,170 women and 530 men) from breast cancer will occur in the United States in 2023. Worldwide, female breast cancer is the fifth leading cause of death. In 2020, an estimated 684,996 women across the world died from breast cancer.
- Women age 55 and older account for about half of all new cases of breast cancer.
- About 85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease.
- Black women have a higher breast cancer death rate than white women, likely due to later stage diagnosis, different tumor characteristics, and barriers to timely screening and treatment.
- Only 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes inherited from a parent. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are responsible for most hereditary breast cancers.
- Women who carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of about 60-80%, compared to 12% in the general population. 10. Breast cancer can also occur in men, but it is rare. Less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men.
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing breast cancer :
- Age - Risk increases as you get older, with most diagnoses after age 50.
- Genetics - Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase risk substantially.
- Family history - Having a close relative with breast cancer raises your risk.
- Reproductive history - Early menstrual periods, late menopause, not having children, and having your first child after 30.
- Previous breast cancer - Having cancer in one breast raises the risk of developing it in the other.
- Radiation exposure - Past treatment using radiation therapy on the chest raises risk.
- Obesity - Postmenopausal women who are overweight have a higher risk.
- Alcohol - Drinking more than 1-2 glasses of alcohol per day.
- Hormone therapy - Combination estrogen/progesterone therapy after menopause.
While some risk factors like age and genetics can't be changed, leading a healthy lifestyle can help lower overall risk.
Symptoms to Know
Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is crucial for early detection :
- A new lump in the breast or underarm area
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or breast
- Pulling in of the nipple
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer, but it's important to have them evaluated promptly by a doctor.
Screening and Early Detection
Detecting breast cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear offers the best outcomes. Screening refers to tests and exams used to find cancer in people without symptoms .
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It can detect tumors too small to feel by hand. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends :
- Women ages 50-74 get mammograms every 2 years.
- Women 40-49 should discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor.
Clinical Breast Exams
A clinical breast exam involves a doctor or nurse physically examining the breasts and underarms for lumps or changes. The exam should be part of regular health care for women.
Doing monthly breast self-exams helps women become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts. Reporting any changes to a doctor right away is recommended.
Early detection saves lives, so take advantage of the screening options available to you.
Mammography Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer
Diagnosis and Staging
If symptoms or screening tests indicate breast cancer, your doctor will run diagnostic tests to confirm . These may include:
- Imaging tests - Additional mammograms, breast ultrasound, MRI scans.
- Biopsy - Removing a sample of the suspicious breast tissue to check for cancer cells under a microscope.
Once diagnosed, more tests determine if the cancer has spread and its stage: Stage 0 - Noninvasive cancers with no spread.
Stages 1-3 - Invasive cancers that have spread to surrounding tissue and perhaps nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 4 - Cancer has metastasized to distant organs like lungs, liver, bones, or brain. The stage at diagnosis impacts treatment options and outlook.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer, along with the patient's overall health . Common options include:
- Surgery - Operations like mastectomy (breast removal), lumpectomy (removing tumor and margin of tissue), lymph node removal.
- Chemotherapy - Using anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. May be given before or after surgery.
- Radiation - High energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Used after lumpectomy or mastectomy.
- Hormone therapy - Blocks effects of estrogen to stop hormone-receptive breast cancers.
- Targeted therapies - Drugs that specifically target cancer cell processes. Used for aggressive or advanced cancers.
Treatment often involves a combination of these options along with emotional support and complementary therapies to maximize quality of life.
Many women who undergo mastectomy choose to have reconstructive surgery afterward . This involves:
- Implants - Silicone or saline implants to reshape the breast contour.
- Flap procedures - Using tissue from the stomach, back, or other areas to reconstruct breasts.
Reconstruction can be done immediately after mastectomy or later. It helps restore the breast's appearance and a sense of wholeness.
Life After Breast Cancer
Adjusting to life after breast cancer treatment brings both physical and emotional challenges . Excellent resources exist to support survivors:
- Rehabilitation - Physical or occupational therapy improves strength, mobility, and function.
- Lymphedema management - Compression sleeves or massage help reduce arm swelling.
- Emotional support - Counseling, support groups, meditation help with self-image, fear of recurrence.
- Financial assistance - Organizations provide financial help with treatment costs, transportation.
Advances in early detection and care help people survive breast cancer like never before. Still, awareness and vigilance are key to saving lives. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, spread the word so we can create a world without this disease.
While breast cancer remains the most common cancer diagnosis in women, death rates have fallen by about 40% from 1989 to 2017 thanks to progress in early detection and treatment.
Still, over 40,000 women lose their lives to this disease each year in the United States. That's why breast cancer awareness and education remain paramount.
Knowing your personal risk factors, signs and symptoms to look out for, and optimal screening plans can promote early diagnosis when the odds of survival are highest. If faced with a diagnosis, understanding the available evidence-based treatment options and utilizing available support resources helps navigate the journey.
Continued research and clinical trials offer hope for discovering new breast cancer risk factors, screening techniques, targeted therapies, and ultimately prevention strategies.
 American Cancer Society. "How Common Is Breast Cancer?" Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, Inc., 9 Jan. 2022,
 Mayo Clinic Staff. "Breast Cancer." Mayoclinic.org, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 Aug. 2022,
 National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. "Types of Breast Cancer." Nationalbreastcancer.org,
 American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change." Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, Inc., 1 Feb. 2022,
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?" Cdc.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 July 2022,
 American Cancer Society. "American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer." Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, Inc., 9 Nov. 2021,
 US Preventive Services Task Force. "Breast Cancer Screening." Uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org, March 2022,
 Mayo Clinic Staff. "Diagnosis of Breast Cancer." Mayoclinic.org,
 Breastcancer.org. "Breast Cancer Treatment." Breastcancer.org, 2022, https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment.
 American Cancer Society. "Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy." Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, Inc., 13 Jan. 2022,
 Paraskevi, Theofilou. “Quality of life outcomes in patients with breast cancer.” Oncology reviews vol. 6,1 e2. 30 Jan. 2012, doi:10.4081/oncol.2012.e2
 Alkabban FM, Ferguson T. Breast Cancer. [Updated 2022 Sep 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
 "Breast Cancer Facts and Statistics 2023." Breastcancer.org, 19 Sept. 2023, https://www.breastcancer.org/facts-statistics.
 Simon, Stacy. "Report: Breast Cancer Death Rates Down 40% Since 1989." American Cancer Society Research News,
https://www.cancer.org/research/acs-research-news/report-breast-cancer-death-rates-down-40- percent-since-1989.html. Published Date: October 2, 2019.