Breast cancer develops when the cells in the breast begin to grow and mutate. The cells then usually form a tumour which what you will often hear referred to as a ‘lump’ as this is how it can show itself. The tumour can also be seen on an X-ray, which is medically reassuring.
Cancer can start in different parts of the breast, but most begin in the milk ducts, which carry the milk to the nipple. Some breast cancers start in the glands that produce the milk. Other types that start elsewhere are less common, like those which start in the tissues in the breast.
However, it is not clear what causes breast cancer directly, but there are some risk factors to watch out for.
Symptoms and signs of breast cancer
- A lump or thickening in your breast that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue
- Changes in shape, size or overall appearance of the breast
- Changes in the skin on the breast, darkening or dimpling
- Redness or pitting of the breasts skin
- Newly inverted nipple
- Flaking, peeling or scaling of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the areola or breast skin.
- Being female: It is often a misconception that only women can get breast cancer, and whilst women are far more susceptible, the breast tissue in a man’s chest can also result in breast cancer with the mutation of cells. 1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer, opposed to 400 men who are diagnosed every year.
- Age: Older women and men are more likely to develop breast cancer, along with other types of cancer.
- Family history of breast cancer: if anyone in your family; for example mother, sister daughter, has a past or present with breast cancer, this could increase your risk. In saying that, the majority of those diagnosed with breast cancer have no family link, that they know of at least. Some women chose to have a double mastectomy to decrease their chances of developing the disease.
- Inherited Genes: Research has found certain gene mutations that increase the risks of breast cancer can be passed down from parent to child. The most common mutations of genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2, and whilst they do not make cancer inevitable the greatly increase the risk of breast cancer and other forms of cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer: if you have had cancer in one of your breasts, it is more likely you will develop breast cancer in the other breast.
- Exposure to Radiation: Radiation treatments to the chest as child or adult can increase any risk of developing cancer.
- Obesity: like with other cancers, being overweight or obese greatly increases your chance of getting breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol: drinking alcohol to excess increases any risks of breast cancer in an individual.
- Starting your period at a younger than normal age: beginning your period before the age of 12 increases risks of breast cancer.
- Starting menopause at an older than normal age: if you started menopause after the age of around 55, your risks of developing breast cancer are increased.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Women who take medication that combines oestrogen and progesterone as a form of hormone therapy to treat the side effects of menopause have an increased risk of getting breast cancer, and the risk decrease when a woman stops taking this medication.
- Having a child at an older age: Women who give birth to their first child past the age of 30 may have an increased risk.
- Never having been pregnant: women who have never been pregnant have a greater chance of developing breast cancer than women who have had at least one pregnancy.
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Checking for breast cancer
It is important, especially for young women, to regularly check your breast – normally about once a month. Breast Cancer Charity Coppafeel is dedicated to combating the late diagnosis of breast cancer by spreading awareness of how and why you should check your breasts (both men and women) for cancer.
They recommend the following, although they stress there is not wrong or right way to check for breast cancer:
If you do find something abnormal, go and see your local GP – it could be nothing but equally it could save your life!
How breast cancer is treated
The type of treatment is based on the type of breast cancer you have; its stage and grade, size and whether it has spread. They also decipher treatment based on whether your cancer cells are sensitive to hormones.
The doctor will also consider your own preferences for treatment and your overall health.
Breast Cancer Surgery
- Removing the cancer
- Removing the entire breast, or both for precaution
- Removing a limited number of lymph nodes
- Removing lots of lymph nodes