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Breast Cancer: Types, stages, symptoms, causes and treatment

Team AckoAug 23, 2022

Alarmingly, Breast Cancer is the number one form of cancer diagnosed in Indian women. Also, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the survival rate of individuals diagnosed with this disease in our country is only 66%. Since this form of cancer is prevalent in our nation, it is imperative to be aware of its types, stages, symptoms, causes and treatment measures. Read ahead as we highlight some of the core aspects of this dreadful disease and how to combat it.

Breast Cancer

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer is a form of cancer that occurs in the breast cells of the human body. Typically, cancer is a disease that comes about when mutations occur in the genes responsible for cell growth. This causes cells to multiply uncontrollably. 

Breast cancer usually forms in the ducts, lobules and/or connective tissue of the breasts (Lobules are the glands that produce milk in women, and ducts are the pathway through which the milk is passed out of the body).

Signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer in women and men

Breast Cancer symptoms in women may not be very prominent in the early stages. Nevertheless, in some cases, symptoms are recognisable. Some of the key recognisable early symptoms of Breast Cancer in women include the following.

  • Pain in the breast

  • Inverted nipple

  • Lumps on the breasts

  • Swelling under the arms

  • Change of breast skin texture

  • Abnormal nipple discharge

  • Sudden change in the shape or size of breasts

Note: Having the above-mentioned symptoms does not conclusively indicate the development of a cancerous tumour. Nevertheless, if you discover any of the listed symptoms, visit your physician at the earliest to get tested.

Although not as common as in women, men can also develop Breast Cancer. The symptoms of Breast Cancer in men are identical to the symptoms of Breast Cancer in women. So, if you are a male and you identify with any of the previously mentioned symptoms, consult a doctor as soon as possible and get tested.

Types of breast cancer

The types of Breast Cancer are broadly classified into two major categories, namely, invasive and non-invasive. Invasive cancer types usually spread to other body parts, whereas non-invasive cancer types are usually localised near the point of origin.

Under these two broad categories, the following are some of the most commonly diagnosed Breast Cancer types.

Non-invasive types

Non-invasive types are also referred to as Breast Cancer in situ and include the following.

  • Lobular carcinoma in situ: This type of cancer is non-invasive and develops in the milk-producing glands of the breasts. Hence, usually, none of the surrounding regions gets affected.

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ: This type of cancer develops in the ducts in the breast and usually does not spread to any other body regions.

Invasive types

The most common invasive types of Breast Cancer include the following.

  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: This type of Breast Cancer first develops in the breast's lobules and then invades the surrounding tissues.

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: This type of Breast Cancer is the most common. It first develops in the ductal region of the breast, then spreads to the nearby tissues and eventually to other parts of the body.

Some of the other less common types of Breast Cancer include the following.

  • Angiosarcoma: This type of cancer develops in the blood or lymph vessels in the breast.

  • Paget disease of the nipple: This type of cancer first develops in the ducts of the nipple and then spreads to the skin and areola of the nipple.

  • Phyllodes tumour: This rare type of cancer usually develops in the connective tissue of the breast. It then forms tumours that may or may not be cancerous.

What are the stages of Breast Cancer?

Treatment for Breast Cancer is usually administered based on the stage you are diagnosed with. Based on the size and spread of the tumour, Breast Cancer is usually divided into the following stages.

Stage 0 Breast Cancer

At this stage, cancer cells are localised to the ducts in the breast and have not yet started spreading.

Stage 1 Breast Cancer

  • Stage 1A: At this stage, the tumour’s size is two centimetres (cm) or less, and the lymph nodes are not yet affected.

  • Stage 1B: At this stage, cancer has developed near the lymph nodes. However, a tumour hasn’t yet developed in the breasts or has developed but is less than 2 cm in size.

Stage 2 Breast Cancer

  • Stage 2A: This stage is diagnosed when the tumour is less than 2 cm but has invaded 1 to 3 nearby lymph nodes or has grown to 2 to 5 cm but has not affected any lymph nodes.

  • Stage 2B: The tumour size is 2 to 5 cm and has also spread to one to three axillary lymph nodes. Or the tumour has grown larger than 5 cm but hasn’t invaded any lymph nodes.

Stage 3 Breast Cancer

  • Stage 3A:The cancer cells have either enlarged the internal mammary glands or have invaded four to nine axillary lymph nodes. In this stage, the size of the tumour is not taken into consideration. Alternatively, this stage is diagnosed when the tumour size exceeds 5 cm and has advanced into one to three breastbone or axillary lymph nodes.

  • Stage 3B: The cancer has spread to the chest wall or skin and may or may not have spread to around nine lymph nodes.

  • Stage 3C: Cancerous cells are found in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, internal mammary nodes or lymph nodes situated near the collarbone.

Stage 4 Breast Cancer

At this stage, the tumour could have grown to any size and also developed in close and distant lymph nodes and organs of the body.

How to find Breast Cancer

Tests that help doctors diagnose Breast Cancer include the following.

  • Mammogram: This is the most common type of test used to detect Breast Cancer. Usually, after examination, if a doctor feels that a portion of the breast requires further inspection, they may request this test.

  • Ultrasound: This test makes use of sound waves to create an image of breast tissues. An ultrasound procedure can help doctors differentiate between a benign cyst and a tumour in the breast.

  • Breast biopsy: If based on a Mammogram or Ultrasound test your doctor suspects a cancerous growth, they are likely to recommend a breast biopsy. In this test, a tissue sample of the suspected region will be collected and sent to a laboratory for testing. The test results will confirm either the presence or absence of cancerous growth.

Treatment for Breast Cancer

As mentioned earlier, the treatment for Breast Cancer is usually suggested based on the cancerous growth’s stage and extent. The following are some of the commonly prescribed treatments.

1. Surgery

Surgery is the most commonly suggested treatment for Breast Cancer. The following are the different types of surgeries usually prescribed.

  • Mastectomy

  • Lumpectomy

  • Axillary lymph node dissection

  • Sentinel node biopsy.

  • Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a treatment wherein drugs are used to eradicate cancer cells. In some instances, Chemotherapy is undergone as a standalone treatment; in other cases, it is undergone with another form of treatment, like surgery. Chemotherapy usually brings with it some unpleasant side effects. So, discuss these with your doctor before undertaking this treatment.

3. Radiation therapy

In this treatment, high-powered radiation beams are used to target the cancerous regions and destroy cancer cells. This form of treatment is usually done external to the body; however, with advances in cancer treatment methods, it is now possible to destroy cancer cells from inside the body as well.

4. Hormone therapy

The female hormones oestrogen and progesterone are known to stimulate cancerous growths in the breast. Hormone therapy helps to block the body’s secretion of these hormones and also the receptor of these hormones in cells. This may slow down or completely stop the growth of cancerous cells.

5. Cancer medication

Doctors sometimes prescribe medications that target specific cancerous mutations. For instance, Herceptin can inhibit the production of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which is responsible for cancerous growth. If you are suffering from breast cancer, kindly consult your doctor to find out the exact medications required to treat your condition.

Risk factors for Breast Cancer

The exact causes of Breast Cancer are unknown. However, it has been found that some risk factors make people more prone to develop this condition. The following are some of the prominent factors.

  • Age: The risk of developing Breast Cancer increases with age. Usually, invasive breast cancer types develop in women above the age of 55 years.

  • Dense breast tissue: Having dense breast tissue not only makes it hard for tests to detect the presence of cancer cells, but it also increases the likelihood of its development.

  • Alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of developing Breast Cancer.

  • Genes: Individuals having BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are more likely to develop the disease in comparison to people who do not have these genes.

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop this disease than men.

  • Hormone therapy: Women who consume postmenstrual hormones like oestrogen and progesterone have an increased likelihood of developing Breast Cancer.

  • Early onset of menstruation: Females who attain menstruation before the age of 11 are more likely to develop this disease.

  • Hereditary risk: If a blood-related family member suffers from this condition, you are more likely to develop it too.

  • Childbirth at an older age: Women who have children after the age of 35 years are more likely to develop this disease.

  • Previous diagnosis: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, it is likely that you will eventually develop the same in the currently unaffected breast.

  • Late start to menopause: Women who start menopause only after the age of 55 years are more prone to develop Breast Cancer.

  • Never been pregnant: Women who have never been pregnant or have not sustained a pregnancy to full term are at a higher risk of developing this disease.

How to prevent Breast Cancer

As it is evident from the previous section, several risk factors are out of our control. However, some can be controlled. Based on that, here are some tips to reduce the risk of developing Breast Cancer.

  • Individuals who are obese are at a higher risk of developing cancerous tumours. Therefore, a healthy diet, coupled with regular exercise, may help to reduce this risk.

  • If you are a heavy alcohol consumer, you can probably cut down on consumption as per a doctor’s instructions.

  • Since older women are more susceptible to this disease, it is recommended that women above the age of 40 years undergo annual breast screening tests.

  • Regular breast self-examinations or examinations by a doctor can help to detect the disease in its early stages and halt it at its roots.

Frequently asked questions

The following are some of the frequently asked questions regarding the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

What is meant by Breast Cancer survival rate?

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Breast Cancer survival rate refers to the percentage of people that survive the disease after a given period (for example, five years). The five-year survival rate for Breast Cancer is 90%. Meaning, that 90% of individuals suffering from this disease still live even after the completion of five years since the initial diagnosis.

What does cancer grade refer to?

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Cancer grade refers to the abnormality of cancer cells as compared to normal cells when studied under a microscope. Tumour cells with a similar structure to healthy cells are considered low grade tumours.

What is meant by adjuvant treatment?

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Adjuvant treatments are additional cancer treatments given on top of primary treatment to prevent the recurrence of cancer development. Examples of adjuvant treatments include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, etc.

What is inflammatory Breast Cancer?

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Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare yet aggressive Breast Cancer type. It affects the lymph vessels in the breast and causes the breast to appear red and swollen. Since it is an aggressive form of the disease, treatment must be sought at the earliest to prevent its spread.

What is triple-negative Breast Cancer?

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Triple-negative Breast Cancer is a rare form of the disease. It occurs when the cancer cells lack oestrogen, progesterone and HER2 receptors. This type of cancer is known to spread rapidly and is difficult to treat.

What are the symptoms of Breast Cancer in men?

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Male breast cancer symptoms are usually similar to those found in females. They include the following.

  • Breast lumps

  • Fluid discharges from the nipple

  • Bumps in the armpit

  • Redness and swelling of breast

  • Inward turning nipple

  • Rashes or sores around the nipple region

Can people die of Breast Cancer?

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If Breast Cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, it is usually treatable. However, in the later stages, it is difficult to treat and may even be fatal.

References: 

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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