Breast Cancer

Breast cancer at a glance

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (aside from skin cancer).
  • Risk factors include age, personal and family history of cancer, reproductive and menstrual history, ethnicity, breast density, lack of physical activity, and consumption of alcohol
  • Signs and symptoms of breast cancer, described below, are fairly easy to discover with a minimum of training and vigilance.
  • Early detection of breast cancer improves the chances of successful treatment.
  • New techniques are constantly being developed to improve the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer.

The Statistics of Breast Cancer

Here are the unfortunate truths about breast cancer: aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death (behind lung cancer) in white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women. In 2009 (the most recent year numbers are available):

  • 194,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • 41,000 women died from breast cancer.

Breast cancer has affected the lives of millions of women as well as their families, friends and communities. But here’s the good news: when discovered, itis treatable and in many cases, survivable if not completely curable.

What Is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is formed in the tissues of breast, most commonly in the ducts and lobules. In 2010, an estimated 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 54,010 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. It is also estimated that 1 in 8 American women will get breast cancer at some time in their lives. Men can also develop breast cancer but it is far less common than in women.

If you or your loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, you need to get the basic information about the breast cancer symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.


Breast Anatomy

The breasts are composed of fatty tissue that contains the glands responsible for milk production in late pregnancy and after childbirth. Within each breast, there are about 15 to 25 lobes formed by groups of lobules, the milk glands. Milk glands contain milk sacs, where milk is produced and milk ducts carry the milk to the nipples from where it is discharged. The breast tissue extends up to the collarbone on top and the armpits on the side. The breast also contains lymphatic vessels. Lymphatic vessels connect with a network of lymph nodes that are located around the breasts’ edges or in nearby tissues of the armpits and collarbone. Lymph nodes play a central role in the spread of breast cancer.

How Breast Cancer Occurs

In the normal human body, the increase in number and size of your cells is tightly regulated. Every day, a certain number of cells die, and these dead cells are replaced by an appropriate number of new cells. Sometimes, an abnormal group of cells in the breast tissue begins to grow uncontrollably. These cells increase in size and in number, even if the breast does not need to grow new cells. They also don’t respond to the body’s signals that should trigger cell suicide, causing them to live longer than normal cells do. The build up of these extra cells form a mass of tissue which is called a lump or tumor. These tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are considered non-cancerous and are at little risk of spreading to other parts. On the other hand, malignant tumors are considered cancerous, have the potential to metastasize, and they can sometimes grow very rapidly and aggressively.

Risk Factors

Although the precise causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, a number of risk factors have been defined that increase a woman’s probability of developing breast cancer. Some of these risk factors include age, personal and family history of cancer, reproductive and menstrual history, ethnicity, breast density, lack of physical activity, and consumption of alcohol. Some risk factors can be managed or avoided, while others, such as genetics or exposure to radiation or toxins, cannot be aptly managed or avoided.

Read more: Symptoms & Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

Read more: Breast Cancer Stages & Treatment