Breast Cancer

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What is it?

When a cancer that has its origins in the tissue of the breast, it is called breast cancer, and usually affects the tissue that lines the inside of the milk ducts, and the areas known as lobules, which provide milk to such ducts. If the cancer has its origins in the duct, it is called a ductal carcinoma. However, if the cancer has its origins in the lobule, it’s called a lobular carcinoma. Breast cancer can occur in not only humans, but also in other types of mammals as well. Also, breast cancer, although predominantly seen in females, can occur in men too.

Causes

The causes of breast cancer vary from lifestyle, genes, and pre-existing medical conditions, with, of course the main causes being of the female sex and old age. Regarding lifestyle, certain risk factors exist, like smoking of tobacco, little physical exercise, and diet factors such as high fat intake, obesity, and alcoholism.

Other lifestyle factors may include exposure to chemicals, radiation, and pesticides. Regarding genetics, it is believed that nearly ten percent of all breast cancer cases are due to a genetic link, with a higher risk in those people whose first-degree relatives have breast cancer. There are also genetic mutations involved, including what is known as the hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome. In terms of medical conditions, physiological changes in the breast have been linked to breast cancer, changes such as atypical hyperplasia (a benign condition) as well as lobular carcinoma in situ (the existence of abnormal cells in the lobes of the breast).

Symptoms

One major initial sign of breast cancer is the presence of a lump on the breast. However, there are other signs that breast cancer may be present. For example, WedMD notes that aside from lumps, dimpling of the skin on the breast is a sign, as is any itching, or a feeling of burning on the skin. Furthermore, Paget’s Disease, which is when a rash and flaking of the skin on the breast occurs, could be a sign of breast cancer. Also, alteration in the color or texture of the skin on the breast, along with alterations in the look of the nipple (for instance, an inversion of the nipple) may be a sign of the disease. Also a sign is the presence of fluid leaking from the nipple (clear or bloody). Other possible signs include pain in the breast, the swelling in the area of the armpit, and a flattening of the breast.

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Diagnosis

There are numerous ways to test and diagnose for breast cancer, with some methods simpler than others. For example, before a biopsy is ever performed on the breast tissue, oftentimes a mammography and a clinical breast exam are first performed. If more tests are required, an MRI may be called for or even an ultrasound. After such tests are done, if suspicion of cancer is still high, a biopsy will most likely be performed. There are two types of biopsies. The first is called a excisional biopsy, which is when the entire lump in the breast is taken out for examination. The second type is called a core biopsy, during which only a portion of the lump is removed. Finally, one other test that may be performed is called a Fine Needle Aspiration and Cytology test, which involves the use of a needle to remove fluid out of the breast for further examination. Usually if the fluid is clear, breast cancer is not evident. However, if the fluid is bloody, the sample will be sent off for further testing.

Treatment

When considering treatment for breast cancer, there are two end results to such treatment. One goal is to get rid of as much cancer in the body as possible. The second is to try and not let the cancer return to the body. As far as specific treatments are concerned, WebMD outlines five different treatment approaches. The first involves surgery, specifically procedures to remove the cancerous tissue in the breast, and are called either mastectomy (where the entire breast is surgically removed) or lumpectomy (in which only a small section of the breast is taken out). The remaining forms of treatment are therapies, such as radiation therapy, during which radiation is used to kill the cancer cells in the breast. Chemotherapy is also widely used, and consists of powerful drugs to kill the cancer. Hormone therapy is another form of cancer treatment during which drugs are utilized to prevent certain hormones, such as estrogen, from increasing the build up of cancer cells that can linger after surgery from breast cancer is performed. Finally, biological therapy is often used, which again uses drugs to promote the body’s own immune system as a weapon to fight against the cancer.