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Breast Cancer: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Mammogram Breast cancer are malignant (cancerous] tumors that begin to grow uncontrollably in the cells that make up the breast. The cancer is the result of abnormal (mutating) changes in the breast tissue's genes that regulate the growth of healthy tissue.

Typically, every cell in the body is designed to replace itself through cell growth when new healthy cell tissue replaces old tissue in its dying face. However, the mutated cancer gene turns off the cell's ability to die and instead keeps dividing itself uncontrollably, producing more mutated cells that eventually form a tumor.

Generally, breast cancer begins in milk-producing ducts or glands that dream breast milk through the breast through lobules before being expressed at the nipple. Less common forms of breast cancer can develop in stromal tissue including the breast's fibrous connective tissue or fat.

Without effective treatment, cancer so can metastasize to neighboring healthy breast tissue or outward to other areas of the body including into lymph nodes, and other organs including the lungs and brain.

The condition is always the result of a genetic abnormality where an error occurs in in the genetic makeup of the cell. Less than 10 percent of all cases involving cancer are caused by an inherited abnormality passed down through familial generations.

Some individuals with breast cancer developed the disease as a part of the aging process.

Possible Causes of Breast Cancer

Scientists have yet to make the obvious correlation between the development of breast cancer and a woman's hormones. However, some studies indicate that extensive exposure to estrogen increases susceptibility that a woman could develop breast cancer. This is because the female hormone provides guidance by telling cells when to divide, which if the cells are dividing in an abnormal way, they can easily become cancerous.

There is no correlation that using birth control pills can increase the potential risk of developing the disease. However, menopausal women using hormone replacement therapy have shown to have an increased risk of the disease if they are on the therapy for five years or longer. Some scientists believe that high-dose radiation could be a factor in the potential development of breast cancer. However, there seems to be no risk at all posed by multiple low-dose mammograms.

Studies do indicate that there is a correlation between breast cancer and diet, where obese individuals and those who drink alcohol excessively (two drinks a day or more) could be at a high risk for the disease. This includes daily high-fat diets.

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Who Gets Breast Cancer?

Scientists have yet to understand the precise cause of the development of breast cancer. However, there are major risk factors associated with the disease including a family history of cancer and growing older. Other known factors for the development of this deadly disease include individuals who have had benign breast lumps or suffered previously from ovarian or breast cancer.

Women whose mother, grandmother, daughter, or sister developed breast cancer as a 200 percent to 300 percent greater chance of developing the disease compared to women without a history of the disease and their family.

Cases involving familiar breast cancer are usually identified with BRCA1 and BRCA2 hereditary genes that are rare in approximately one woman for every 200 females. However, the predisposition to these genes does not guarantee that the woman will develop the disease in her lifetime.

Typically, women 50 years and older have a higher chance of developing breast cancer compared to younger women. Caucasians (white) women are less likely to develop breast cancer prior to menopause compared to African-American women.

While breast cancer is usually considered a female disease, men can acquire the disease too. This because men also have breast tissue that can develop malignant tumors and metastasize (spread) to distant sites in the body. Though rare, breast cancer in men can be deadly because it is often diagnosed at later stages of the disease when the tissue is already metastasized. Self-diagnosis cases of male breast cancer often occur when the man finds a tender lump on his chest.

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Breast Cancer Types

Every part of the breast can become cancerous including the ducts, nipple, lobules, and connective tissue. These include invasive, noninvasive, metastatic, and recurrent breast cancers along with molecular or intrinsic subtypes of the disease. The types of breast cancer include:

  • Ductal Carcinoma in Situ

  • Tubular Carcinoma of the Breast

  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

  • Invasive Lobular Carcinoma

  • Medullary Breast Carcinoma

  • Papillary Breast Carcinoma

  • Mucinous Breast Carcinoma

  • Lobular Carcinoma in situ

  • Paget's Nipple Disease

  • Cribriform Breast Carcinoma

  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • Male Breast Cancer

  • Phyllodes Breast Tumors that develop in breast stroma (connective tissue)

  • Metastatic Breast Cancer

  • Recurrent Breast Cancer

Infiltrating or invasive cancerous tissue has already invaded (metastasized/spread) into the surrounding area.

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Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Doctors have access to numerous medical procedures, tests, and options to accurately diagnose the disease. Some of these include:

  • Breast Examination – Many women perform their own breast examination at home to look for any lumps or abnormality in any part of the breast including connective tissue, fatty deposits, and the nipple. The doctor will perform a comprehensive examination of armpit lymph nodes and breast tissue to look for any lumps or abnormality.

  • Breast Ultrasound – A technician will use an ultrasound machine that produces sound waves to make images of the body's deep structures including breast tissue. The sound wave can create an image that outlines new breast lump tissue newly developing lumps caused by a fluid-filled cyst or solid mass.

  • Mammogram – Taking an x-ray of the breast is a common tool for breast cancer screening. If cell abnormality is identified, the doctor typically recommends the patient undergo a diagnostic mammogram to collect further information for evaluating the abnormal structure.

  • Breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – Using radio waves in a magnet, the MRI equipment can produce pictures of the breast's interior structure. The doctor may recommend using an injectable dye that creates better imaging.
Breast Cancer Stages

Doctors categorize or stage the different levels of breast cancer to record the extent of damage cancerous tissue has caused the body. In addition, the staging provides valuable information on what treatments might be most effective at managing or curing the disease. In its most basic form, there are five initial stages of breast cancer ranging from 0 to IV.

  • Stage 0 – Ductal carcinoma in situ is considered the earliest stage of breast cancer where abnormal tissue has been detected.

  • Stage I – Early breast cancer

  • Stage II – Locally advanced cancerous breast tissue

  • Stage III – An advanced type of invasive breast cancer that has yet to spread to distant sites

  • Stage IV – Aggressive metastatic breast cancer that has spread to other areas in the body that could include the brain and lungs

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Breast Cancer Treatments

Doctors have various options for the treatment of breast cancer including surgery involving tissue expansion, mammoplasty, lumpectomy, lymph node dissection, and mastectomy.

However, some patients will undergo radiation therapy that uses high X-ray energy beams to shrink tumors and destroy cancer cells. Some doctors prescribed medications including those formulated with anastrozole and goserelin to treat breast cancer and endometriosis.

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