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What is Breast Cancer?

By  , Expert Content
Nov 29, 2011
4.8 / 5(4 Ratings)

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the breast. The disease occurs most often in women, but it can affect male breast as well. A woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in her life is about 1 in 8 (12%). The exact causes of breast cancer are not known but there are many factors that are known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer.The discussion below focuses on women, as the cancer is more common in women compared with men.


Three main kinds of tissues present in the female breast are;

  • Lobules: the milk-producing glands,
  • Ducts: these are tiny tubes that carry the milk produced in lobules to the nipple and
  • Stroma: fatty tissue and connective tissue surrounding the ducts, lobules, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels make the stroma (or the supporting tissue of the breast).

Breast cancer can develop in any of these tissues. Nevertheless, breast cancers mostly begin in the cells that line the ducts (ductal cancers) and less often in the cells that line the lobules (lobular cancers). Breast tumours can be benign or malignant.

  • Benign tumours (these are not cancerous): The cells of benign tumours are close to normal in appearance and grow slowly.These are not dangerous to health and these tumours do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant tumours: These have the potential to spread to other parts of the body if they are not treated at the right time.

Benign breast tumours: Most lumps or growths that start in the breast are not cancerous (benign). The most common breast lumps include benign breast tumours (such as fibro adenomas or intraductalpapillomas) and fibrocystic disease of the breast. In fibrocystic disease of the breast, the lump shows fibrosis and cysts. Fibrocystic changes can result in breast swelling and pain. The benign breast tumours such as fibro adenomas or intraductalpapillomas are not cancerous, but if these are present, they increase the risk of the development of breast cancer.


Breast carcinomas: A malignant tumour has the potential to grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). Several types of cancer can occur in the breast. Most breast cancers, however, are either ductal carcinomas or lobular carcinomas. Other types of breast cancer occur less commonly.

  • Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma: This is the most common type of malignant breast cancer (about 8 in 10). The tumour starts in the in a milk passage (duct) of the breast, and if it is not treated, it invades through the wall of the duct and grows into the fatty tissues of the breast.
  • Invasive (or infiltrating) lobular carcinoma: This type of carcinoma starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). It accounts for about 1 in 10 malignant breast cancers.

Breast cancer may be diagnosed during a regular health examination with the physician, self-examination of the breasts, mammography or when there are some breast symptoms. Treatment of breast cancer is decided based on the type of cancer and its stage (the extent of spread in the body). Your doctor can advise you regarding the best type of treatment for you.

 

 


 

 

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