Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. It is the second most common cancer in women after skin cancer. 

There are many risk factors that affect breast cancer. These include:

  • A personal history of invasive breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
  • A personal history of benign (non-cancer) breast disease.
  • A family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister).
  • Breast tissue that is dense on a mammogram. The level of risk depends on how dense the breast tissue is. Women with very dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with low breast density.
  • Exposure of breast tissue to oestrogen made by the body. This may be caused by:
    • Menstruating at an early age. Beginning to have menstrual periods at age 11 or younger increases the number of years the breast tissue is exposed to oestrogen
    • Older age at first birth or never having given birth. Because oestrogen levels are lower during pregnancy, breast tissue is exposed to more oestrogen in women who become pregnant for the first time after age 35 or who never become pregnant.
    • Starting menopause at a later age. The more years a woman menstruates, the longer her breast tissue is exposed to oestrogen.
  • Taking hormones such as oestrogen combined with progestin for symptoms of menopause.
  • Drinking alcohol. The level of risk rises as the amount of alcohol consumed rises.
  • Obesity, especially in postmenopausal women who have not used hormone replacement therapy.

Moreover, older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.

The following are signs that may be caused by breast cancer. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast.
  • A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast.
  • A nipple turned inward into the breast.
  • Fluid, other than breast milk, from the nipple, especially if it’s bloody.
  • Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple).
  • Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange

Your doctor may then prescribe you further examinations to determine whether a breast cancer is developing.  These may include:

  • Mammogram: An x-ray of the breast.
  • Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of both breasts. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease.
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. If a lump in the breast is found, a biopsy may be done.

After breast cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the body.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body: through tissue, through the lymph system and through blood.

In breast cancer, stage is based on the size and location of the primary tumour, the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body, tumour grade, and whether certain biomarkers are present.

Treatment of Breast Cancer may involve a surgical operation, followed by post-operative radiation therapy or chemotherapy on a case-by-case situation. Radiation therapy is usually given to lessen the chance the cancer will come back, and may also be given to lymph nodes in the area.

Depending on the exact location and size of the tumour, Radiotherapy treatments for breast cancer can last from 3 to 5 weeks.

Some tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer recurs (comes back). These tests are usually called follow-up tests or check-ups.