What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a collective term for all cancers that originate in the breast tissue. Normally, cells divide and multiply in an orderly fashion but sometimes these cells begin to grow and multiply in an irregular and uncontrolled way. These abnormal cells can form a lump or tumor in the breast.
Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast. A breast is made up of three main parts: the lobules, ducts, and connective tissue. The lobules are the glands that produce milk. The ducts are tubes that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue surrounds and hold everything together. A majority of breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules.
There are many different types of breast cancer. The most common are:
Invasive ductal carcinoma: the cancer cells grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.
Invasive lobular carcinoma: cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
Research shows that breast cancer can be caused by a combination of our genes, lifestyle choices, and surrounding environment.
A major risk factor is age – at least 4 out of 5 breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. In some cases, breast cancer runs in the family but most women with breast cancer to not have a family history of it.
You can lower your risk of developing breast cancer by making changes such as drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and regularly being active.
Screenings & Preventative Measures:
The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the changes of beating it.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include but are not limited to:
A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
Change in the size, shape, or appearance of a breast
Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
A newly inverted nipple
Peeling, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the pigmented area of the skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
Redness of pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
Women are encouraged to perform self breast exams frequently. BreastCancerNow has a great acronym: TLC.
TOUCH your breasts. Can you feel anything unusual?
LOOK for changes. Is there any change in shape or texture?
CHECK anything unusual with your doctor.
KnowYourLemons has a great info-graphic of what breast cancer can look and feel like. Knowing your breasts well and being able to recognize changes in them can be very important.
Adult women are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. Though mammograms can help detect cancer before a lump can be felt, breast self-exams can help you familiarize with how your breast look and feel so that you can talk to your doctor if there are any changes.
When you give yourself a breast exam know what to feel for:
1. In the shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move in a circular pattern around your entire breast from the outside to the center. Be sure to check the entire breast and armpit area as well.
2. In front of a mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your side. Next, raise your arms high overhead and look for any changes.
3. Lying down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Check for lumps or discharge and repeat on the left side.
Although self-breast exams are helpful, mammograms can see what you can’t. Mammograms are currently the most effective screening tool in finding breast cancer in women. You should get a mammogram every 1-3 years depending on your age and risk factors.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts. This exam involves the breast being pressed between two paddles in order to flatten out breast tissue and is done by a trained technician. On a mammogram, cancers usually show up as white, irregular spots against a darker background.
The recommended age women should start getting mammograms varies. Some organizations recommend starting at age 40 while others recommend starting at age 50.
Once you reach 40, you should talk to your doctor about when you should get your mammogram. Your doctor will access your age and risk factor and help you make an informed decision.