Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Awareness

cancer feature image

Did you know that 1 in every 8 women in US is diagnosed with breast cancer?

Moreover, 95% of the cases in US include women of age 40 years and older.

According to the American Cancer Society, women who go for regular screening for breast cancer have 47% lesser chances of dying from the disease in comparison to those who don’t.

Did you know that men get breast cancer as well?

However, a man’s risk for breast cancer is 1 in 1000.

This is your complete guide for 2021 explaining all the details about breast cancer. We will probe into the signs and symptoms, causes, stages, as well as treatment of breast cancer.

So, let’s start!


There are certain genes in our body which regulate the growth of cells.

The onset of cancer is marked by the mutation (changes) in those genes.

Moreover, as a result of mutation, the cells start to divide and then multiply in an uncontrolled manner.

When such multiplication happens in the breast cells, it leads to breast cancer.

breast cancer cell
3d illustration Breast Cancer Cell

Sites of Development

Usually, the site of cancer development is either the ducts or the lobules of the breast.

Moreover, cancer may also develop in the connective tissue or the fatty tissue within the breast.

The cancer cells in the affected area can even invade the other healthy cells and tissues of breast and can travel up into the lymph nodes present beneath the arms.

Furthermore, from lymph nodes, cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Types of Breast Cancer

It is majorly divided into two categories:

  1. Invasive cancer (which spreads from the lobules or ducts to other parts of the breast)
  2. Noninvasive cancer (which does not spread from the original source)
breast cancer types
Breast cancer: Microscopic image of a poorly differentiated, grade 3, infiltrating (invasive) ductal carcinoma (photographed and uploaded by US board-certified surgical pathologist).

Moreover, on the basis of these two types, we can further describe the most common types of breast cancer.

These include:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive condition in which the cancer cells remain confined to the breast ducts and don’t invade the other breast tissue)
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive condition in which the cancer cells grow and remain limited to the lobules and don’t invade the surrounding tissue)
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma (an invasive condition which begins in the ducts of breast and can invade the nearby tissues in breast from where it can further spread to the other tissues and organs)
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma (an invasive condition which first develops in the lobules of breast and then spreads to the surrounding tissues and other organs and tissues of the body)

Furthermore, there are various other types that are not very common.

These include angiosarcoma, paget disease of the nipple and phyllodes tumor.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

You might not be able to figure out any symptoms during an early stage.

In most of the cases, at start the tumor is too small to be felt. However, it can still be detected on a mammogram.

If you have a feeling that you have a tumor, then the first sign to look for is a new lump in the breast.

Moreover, not all lumps are necessarily cancer.

symptoms of breast cancer

Most of the symptoms for each type of breast cancer are same. However, some may vary depending on the type.

The most common symptoms include:

  • a lump or thickening of tissue in breast
  • a swelling or lump beneath your arm
  • pain in breast
  • breast skin becomes red and pitted
  • swelling in a part or all of the breast
  • scaling or peeling of nipple or breast skin
  • an unusual discharge from nipple other than breast milk
  • discharge of blood from the nipple
  • an unusual and sudden change in the breast shape or size
  • nipples may invert
  • changes in the appearance of breast skin

Moreover, some of these symptoms may signal other issues like benign cyst.

However, if you start to identify any of the symptoms, you must see your healthcare provider for the identification of actual problem, further examination and breast cancer diagnosis.

Causes of Breast Cancer

Like we discussed earlier, the onset of the disease is marked by the abnormal growth of breast cells.

As per researches the environmental, hormonal as well as lifestyle factors affects the risk of developing the disease.

Moreover, there are chances that a complex interaction of your environment as well as your genetic makeup can cause breast cancer.

breast cancer causes

Risk Factors

There are various risk factors that may increase your chances to develop breast cancer.

Some of the common risk factors include:

  • being a female
  • increasing age
  • having a family history
  • a personal history of breast conditions or cancer
  • exposure to radiations
  • certain gene mutations that can pass on from your parents to you (such as, BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • obesity
  • if your periods begin at an early age
  • in case the menopause begins at an older age
  • if you’ve never been pregnant
  • having first child at an older age
  • high intake of alcohol
  • taking postmenopausal hormone therapy

Breast Cancer Stages

For the purpose of identifying the stage of the cancer, doctors will be looking for answers like:

  • whether the cancer is noninvasive or invasive
  • if there is an involvement of lymph nodes
  • the size of tumor
  • how much is the spread of cancer to the surrounding tissues and organs
breast cancer stages
Breast magnetic resonance image, or MRI. The bright white dot in the larger images is Stage One breast cancer. The small images show the position within the body.

There are five main stages of breast cancer: stage 0 to stage 4.

Stage 0

This stage is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

During this stage the abnormal cell production remain confined to the breast’s ducts and has not spread to the surrounding tissues.

Stage 1

  • Stage 1A:

The width of tumor is 2 cm or less than 2 cm and there is no invasion in the lymph nodes.

  • Stage 1B:

Cancer is present in the lymph nodes, and either the tumor is totally absent in the breast, or it is smaller than 2cm.

Stage 2

  • Stage 2A:

Either the size of tumor is smaller than 2 cm and is found in (1 to 3) nearby lymph node, or the size is 2 to 5 cm and is not found in the nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage 2B:

Either the size of tumor ranges from 2 to 5 cm and has invaded (1 to 3) surrounding lymph nodes, or it’s larger than 5 cm and there is no invasion in lymph nodes.

Stage 3

  • Stage 3A:
  1. The primary tumor can be of any size. However, either the cancer has increased the size of internal mammary lymph nodes or there is an invasion in the (4 to 9) nearby lymph nodes.
  2. The size of tumor is larger than 5 cm and there is an invasion in (1 to 3) nearby lymph nodes or any other nodes of breastbone.
  • Stage 3B:

There is an invasion of the tumor in the wall or skin of the chest. Moreover, the tumor has (may or may not) spread up to the 9 lymph nodes

  • Stage 3C:

There is a spread of cancer to the 10 or more nearby lymph nodes, other lymph nodes present near the collarbone, or the internal mammary nodes.

Stage 4

At this stage, the tumor can be of any size.

Moreover, the cancer cells are spread to all the nearby as well as distant lymph nodes.

From the lymph nodes, the cells have even spread to the distant organs and tissues.

It’s really important to know which stage of the disease are you on. Your doctor will develop your treatment plan accordingly.

Cancer Treatment

The tests for the purpose of diagnosis include:

  • Mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • Breast biopsy

cancer treatment

Surgical Procedures

The surgical procedures for the purpose of removing cancer include:

  • Mastectomy
  • Lumpectomy
  • Axillary lymph node dissection
  • Sentinel node biopsy
  • Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy

Other Procedures

The other procedures for the treatment of the disease include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Certain medications

Your doctor can guide which treatment plan will work best for you and will have minimal side effects.

Breast Cancer Prevention

There are various preventive measures that you can take in order to save yourself from developing the disease.

Getting screenings on a regular basis, following a healthy lifestyle as well as your doctor’s advice can be helpful in reducing the risk of breast cancer development.

cancer prevention

Following are the preventive measures that you can take in order to save yourself from this deadly disease:

  • Lifestyle changes (such as eating healthy, getting adequate amount of sleep and increasing your physical activity)
  • Breast cancer screening (Getting a mammogram regularly can help reduce the chances of cancer progressing further and going unnoticed)
  • Preemptive treatment (diagnostic and prophylactic treatment to identify if your genes have the mutation)
  • Breast examination (either doing self-examination or getting examination done by your doctor)

Breast Cancer Awareness

There is a great news regarding the fight against this deadly disease.

The rate of deaths is continuously decreasing. We owe it to the increase in awareness as well as early detection by getting regular screening.

cancer awareness

October is national breast cancer awareness month. During this month, all the healthcare experts as well as the survivors emphasize further on scheduling annual mammograms or genetic screening.

Moreover, they also aim to highlight the preventive measures in order to save people from the risk of developing the disease.

We have covered all the details about breast cancer ranging from its various types to the treatment and awareness.

Still, if you want to add something or have any queries, leave your comments in the section below.

You can also share your stories of battle against breast cancer and how it made you stronger.

We would be pleased to have your response.

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