Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in the breast tissue in women, and in rare cases, in men.
The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 300,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2015. They also estimate that 2350 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer found in women, behind skin cancer, and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, behind lung cancer.
Though 2 out of every three patients diagnosed with breast cancer can expect to survive for more than five years following diagnosis, we'll lose more than 40,000 people to breast cancer in 2015.
Where does breast cancer form?
Most commonly, breast cancer forms in the ductal tissues of the breast, but it can also develop in the neighboring lobule tissue, and in a small number of cases, elsewhere in the breast.
Breast cancer can also metastasize, or spread, to other areas of the body, such as the lungs. This would be referred to as metastatic breast cancer in the lungs, rather than lung cancer.
*image credit American Cancer Society
What are the signs of breast cancer?
It's important to note that breast cancer, in its earliest stages, doesn't usually present with symptoms. In fact, most routine physicals and mammograms will identify breast cancer long before any physical symptoms can be identified.
The most common physical symptom of breast cancer is the presence of a new lump, or mass, in the breast tissue. A breast cancer mass may develop as a hard, painless, irregular mass, but can also present as a tender, soft, round mass. Routine self-breast exams are the best way to familiarize yourself with your breast tissue, which will make it easier to identify any abnormalities.
Other symptoms of breast cancer can include:
- One-sided swelling of all or part of the breast
- Dimpling of the breast tissue
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple inversion
- Thickening, redness or scaliness of the breast skin or nipple
- Nipple discharge not related to lactation
Breast cancer can also develop in the lymph nodes under the arm or in the upper chest, causing lumps or swelling in those areas.
These symptoms can also be associated with other illnesses or skin conditions, but report any suspicious symptoms to your doctor anyway.
Who is at risk for developing breast cancer?
Anyone can develop breast cancer. Some people have risk factors that make their odds of developing breast cancer higher, but the presence of one or even multiple risk factors doesn't mean you will develop breast cancer. And the absence of risk factors doesn't mean you're safe.
Genetic Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
- Gender – Women are most at-risk for developing breast cancer.
- Age – Your risk of developing breast cancer increases with age.
- Genetics – About 5-10% of women inherit a genetic mutation that means an increased risk of breast cancer. It is possible to test for these genetic causes.
- Family history – If you have a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer, your risk is twice that of someone without any breast cancer in her immediate family.
- Personal history – If you have cancer in one breast, your risk is three to four times higher of developing a new cancer in the same breast or the other breast.
- Race – Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women. Women of Asian, Hispanic and Native-American descent have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- Dense breast tissue – If your breasts contain more glandular and fibrous tissues and less fatty tissue, you are at an increased risk for breast cancer. Dense breast tissue can also make traditional mammograms less accurate. Consider a digital mammogram if you have dense breast tissue.
Lifestyle Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
- Birth control – Some research suggests a slight increase in breast cancer risk in women who've taken oral contraceptives or DMPA (Depo-Provera) injections.
- Post-menopausal hormone therapy – Studies have shown that hormone therapy contributes to an increased risk for developing breast cancer.
- Sedentary lifestyle – New research is showing that regular physical activity, such as brisk walking a few hours a week, can reduce breast cancer risk by about 20%.
How is breast cancer detected and diagnosed?
Breast cancer can be detected in a several ways – noticing symptoms, a physical exam with your doctor, a breast self-exam at home, or through a mammogram.
If breast cancer is suspected, the next step is usually an ultrasound or MRI of the breast and a biopsy of the suspicious tissue.
If the results confirm the presence of cancer cells, your doctor will determine the stage of your cancer and talk with you about the best treatment options.
Who should get a mammogram?
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women over age 40 get a mammogram every year.
Most insurance companies will cover a baseline mammogram for women around age 35, and typically this first exam is fully covered, minus any applicable copays.
Talk with your primary care physician or gynecologist to determine when you should have baseline exam, and when you should start having a mammogram annually.
If your insurance is insufficient, or you don't have medical coverage, you may qualify for a free or reduced-cost mammogram. Call 740-435-2500 for information.
Mammograms can be performed at our Community HealthLink Center.
How is breast cancer treated?
Breast cancer is very treatable, particular in the early stages.
Common breast cancer treatment options include:
- Hormone therapy
Breast cancer surgery involves removing the tumor and some surrounding tissue. This procedure is called a lumpectomy. Some women will opt for a mastectomy, which involves the removal of all breast tissue.
Chemotherapy involves getting cancer-killing drugs into your bloodstream, either by injection or oral consumption in pill or liquid form. Chemo can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, as well as after surgery to kill cancers cells that have spread to other areas of the body. Chemotherapy helps reduce the odds of recurrence. Chemo treatments are delivered in cycles over a period of three to six months with a few weeks of rest between each treatment.
Radiation therapy is often performed in conjunction with a lumpectomy or mastectomy to kill any cancer cells that remain in the surrounding tissue. A typical radiation treatment cycle is five days a week for about six weeks, with treatments lasting about 10 minutes each.
Hormone therapy is effective against cancer cells that are hormone receptor-positive. In these cancers, estrogen contributes to the growth of the cancer. Hormone therapy is designed to lower estrogen levels, thereby starving the cancer and shrinking it. Hormone therapy is often prescribed following other treatments to prevent recurrence.
Your breast cancer treatment team will be comprised of experts in a variety of fields, and together you will determine what course of initial and ongoing treatment is best for your case.