Last modified on September 2023
With inputs from Dr. Spurti Kattimani
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the breast. It occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow and multiply uncontrollably, forming a tumor. Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body if not detected and treated early. It is the most common cancer among women worldwide and can also occur in men, although it is rare. This breast cancer guide will help you understand the importance of diagnosing breast cancer in early stages. Also, read how to diagnose breast cancer in early stages so that it can be treated early as they say, early detection can save lives.
Here’s how many women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year:
Breast Cancer Statistics Globally:
- As per the WHO, In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer. Source.
Breast Cancer Statistics India:
- As per an ICMR report, in 2020, more than two lakh women in India were diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 76,000 deaths were reported as per the estimates. Source.
Chapter 1: What are the different types of Breast Cancer?
- Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS): This is a non-invasive type of breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts and does not spread to other parts of the breast.
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC): This is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80% of all breast cancers. It starts in the milk ducts and invades the surrounding breast tissue.
- Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC): This type of breast cancer starts in the milk-producing glands and can spread to other parts of the breast.
- Triple Negative Breast Cancer: This is an aggressive type of breast cancer that lacks estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors.
- HER2-positive Breast Cancer: This type of breast cancer has too much of the HER2 protein, which promotes the growth of cancer cells.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer: This is a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer that causes the breast to become red, swollen, and tender.
- Paget’s Disease of the Breast: This is a rare type of breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and areola.
It’s important to note that there can be variations within each of these types of breast cancer, and treatment plans will vary depending on the specific characteristics of the cancer.
Chapter 2: How does Breast Cancer start?
Breast cancer occurs when normal cells in the breast turn abnormal and begin to grow uncontrollably and form a tumor. While the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, it is believed to be the result of genetic mutations that occur within the breast cells.
These genetic mutations can be inherited from a parent or can occur spontaneously during a person’s lifetime. Factors that can increase the risk of developing breast cancer include a family history of breast cancer, certain genetic mutations, aging, exposure to estrogen and other hormones, alcohol consumption, and obesity.
The cancerous cells in the breast can eventually invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. This is why early detection and treatment of breast cancer is so important, as it can help prevent the cancer from spreading and improve the chances of successful treatment.
Chapter 3: What are the early signs of Breast Cancer?
It’s important to note that not all cases of breast cancer have early warning signs, which is why regular screening is important for early detection. However, some possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area.
- Changes in the size, shape or appearance of the breast.
- Dimpling, redness, pitting or other alterations in breast skin.
- Nipple changes, such as a nipple that turns inward, becomes red or swollen.
- Abnormal nipple discharge
- A new or unusual lump in the breast or underarm area.
- Pain, tenderness and swelling (rare)
It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can also be caused by non-cancerous conditions, but if you notice any changes in your breasts, it’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation. Mammograms and other imaging tests can help detect breast cancer early, before any symptoms are present.
Are you at risk for Breast Cancer?
Take MFine’s Free Self-Check for Breast Cancer, answer a few questions and know your risks.
Chapter 4: What are the common causes of Breast Cancer?
The exact causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, but research has identified certain factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. Some of the most common causes and risk factors of breast cancer include:
- Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age, and most cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.
- Gender: Breast cancer is much more common in women than men, although men can also develop the cancer.
- Family history: Having a family history of breast cancer, especially in a mother, sister, or daughter, can increase the risk of developing the cancer.
- Inherited gene mutations: Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer: Women who have previously had breast cancer are at a higher risk of developing the cancer again.
- Hormones: Exposure to estrogen and progesterone, which can occur naturally in the body or through hormone replacement therapy, can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause.
It’s important to note that not everyone with these risk factors will develop breast cancer, and some people without these risk factors may still develop the disease. Regular breast cancer screening is recommended for all women, regardless of their risk factors, to help detect the disease early.
Chapter 5: How to diagnose Breast Cancer at an early stage?
Breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage through regular screening and diagnostic tests. It’s important for women to perform regular breast self-exams and report any changes in their breasts to their healthcare provider. Some of the most common ways to diagnose breast cancer include:
- Mammography: This is a low-dose X-ray test that can detect breast cancer in its early stages, before any symptoms are present.
- Clinical Breast Exam: A doctor or nurse examines the breasts for any lumps or other abnormalities.
- Breast Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to produce images of the breast tissue and can help distinguish between solid and fluid-filled masses.
- Breast MRI: This test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the breast tissue and can be used in addition to mammography for high-risk patients.
- PET Scan for breast cancer: A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a type of imaging test. It uses a radioactive substance which is also called a tracer to look for potential spread of breast cancer. It can identify areas of cancer that an MRI or CT scan might not show.
- Biopsy: A tissue sample is taken from the breast and examined under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
- Women at average risk of breast cancer should start getting mammograms at age 50 and continue to get them every two years. Women at higher risk may need to start mammograms at an earlier age and have them more frequently.
- Early detection and treatment of breast cancer can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment and can help prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
Chapter 6: Importance of Self-Examination in Detecting Breast Cancer
Breast self-examination is an important tool for detecting breast cancer at an early stage. While it’s not a substitute for regular mammograms and clinical breast exams, self-examination can help women become familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts so that they can detect any changes or abnormalities that may be a sign of breast cancer.
Performing a breast self-examination involves looking at and feeling both breasts for any changes, such as lumps, thickening, or changes in size or shape. It’s important to perform this exam regularly, at least once a month, and to report any changes to a healthcare provider.
Self-examination can be done at home, and there are many resources available to help women learn how to do it properly.
Steps to do a breast self-exam:
- Stand in front of a mirror
- Check each breast for anything unusual
- Check the skin for puckering, dimpling or redness
- Press hands firmly on hips, bend slightly towards the mirror and pull shoulders and elbows forward. This is to check for any change in the shape or contour of breasts.
- Gently press each nipple and look for a discharge.
- Use the pads of fingers to check the breast and the surrounding area firmly and thoroughly. One can use a lotion or powder to help fingers move easily over the skin. Check for any unusual lump or mass under the skin. Move fingers in small, overlapping tissues that are about the size of a dime. Source
While doing a breast self-exam, it is important to cover the whole breast and pay special attention to the area between the breast and the underarms.
While self-examination is an important tool, it’s important to note that not all breast cancers can be detected through self-examination, and some changes in the breast may not be cancerous. That’s why regular mammograms and clinical breast exams are also important for early detection of breast cancer.
Chapter 7: Difference between Mammogram & Sono Mammogram
A mammogram is a type of medical imaging that uses low-dose X-rays to create images of the breast tissue. The images produced by mammography can help detect signs of breast cancer in its early stages, before any symptoms appear.
A sonomammogram, also known as breast ultrasound, is a non-invasive medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the breast tissue. It is often used as a complementary tool to mammography, particularly in cases where a mammogram has detected an abnormality or where the breast tissue is dense, making it difficult to obtain a clear mammogram image.
The main difference between mammography and sonomammography is the imaging technology used to create the images. Mammography uses X-rays, while sonomammography uses sound waves. Mammography is generally more sensitive in detecting calcifications, while sonomammography is better at identifying soft-tissue abnormalities.
In general, a combination of both mammography and sonomammography is recommended for breast cancer screening, as they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Chapter 8: Other Breast Conditions those are not Cancerous
There are several breast conditions that are not cancerous. Here are some of the most common:
- Fibrocystic breast changes: This is a common condition where the breasts feel lumpy or rope-like. It is caused by hormone fluctuations and is not a precursor to breast cancer.
- Breast pain (mastalgia): Breast pain can be caused by a variety of factors such as hormonal changes, injury, or infection. It is not usually a sign of breast cancer.
- Breast cysts: These are fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast tissue. They are usually benign and do not increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Breast infections: These can occur when bacteria enter the breast tissue through a cracked or sore nipple. Breast infections are not related to breast cancer.
- Fibroadenomas: These are non-cancerous tumors that can develop in the breast tissue. They are usually painless and do not increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Nipple discharge: This can be caused by a variety of factors such as hormonal changes, medications, or injury.
It’s important to note that while these conditions are not cancerous, they should still be evaluated by a healthcare provider to determine the cause and appropriate treatment, if necessary.
Chapter 9: 10 Breast Cancer Myths v/s Facts
There are many myths and misconceptions about breast cancer that can lead to confusion and anxiety. Here are some common breast cancer myths:
|#1||Only women can get breast cancer.||Men can get breast cancer too, although it is rare.|
|#2||Only older women get breast cancer.||While the risk of breast cancer does increase with age, younger women can also develop breast cancer.|
|#3||If you have a family history of breast cancer, you will definitely get breast cancer.||Having a family history of breast cancer does increase your risk, but it does not mean you will definitely get breast cancer.|
|#4||Wearing an underwire bra or using antiperspirant can cause breast cancer.||There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that wearing an underwire bra or using antiperspirant can cause breast cancer.|
|#5||Breast cancer always presents as a lump.||While a lump is a common symptom of breast cancer, not all breast cancers present with a lump. Other symptoms include nipple discharge, changes in nipple shape, breast skin changes, changes in breast shape or breast pain.|
|#6||If you have a mastectomy, you do not need to have regular mammograms.||Women who have had a mastectomy still need to have regular mammograms on the remaining breast tissue.|
|#7||If you have no family history of breast cancer, you are not at risk.||While having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk, most people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer.|
|#8||Breast cancer is always accompanied by visible symptoms.||Breast cancer can develop without any noticeable symptoms, which is why regular mammograms and breast exams are important for early detection.|
|#9||Breast cancer is a death sentence.||While breast cancer can be a serious disease, advances in treatment have greatly improved survival rates. Early detection and prompt treatment can also improve outcomes.|
|#10||You can’t get breast cancer if you lead a healthy lifestyle.||While leading a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of breast cancer, it is not a guarantee that you will not develop the disease. Anyone, regardless of their lifestyle choices, can develop breast cancer. Regular screening and early detection are important for all individuals.|
Chapter 10: Breast Cancer Treatment
The treatment of breast cancer depends on various factors such as the stage of the cancer, the size and location of the tumor, the presence of hormone receptors, and the patient’s overall health. Here are some common treatments for breast cancer:
- Surgery: Surgery is often the first-line treatment for breast cancer. The most common type of surgery is a lumpectomy, which involves removing the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue. In more advanced cases, a mastectomy may be necessary to remove the entire breast.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. It is often used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often used in cases where the cancer has spread beyond the breast or if there is a high risk of recurrence.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is used in cases where breast cancer has hormone receptors. It works by blocking the hormones that help the cancer grow.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that targets specific genes or proteins that contribute to the growth of cancer cells. It is often used in cases where the cancer has spread beyond the breast.
- Clinical trials: Clinical trials are ongoing studies that test new treatments for breast cancer. They may offer new treatment options for patients who have not responded to standard treatments.
It’s important to note that the management of breast cancer is highly individualized and may involve a combination of above treatments. A healthcare provider can help determine the best treatment plan based on a patient’s specific circumstances.
Chapter 11: Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the 5 warning signs of breast cancer?
The warning signs of breast cancer can vary from person to person, but here are five common signs to look out for:
- A lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area
- Changes in breast size, shape, or appearance
- Nipple discharge that is not breast milk
- Breast skin changes like puckering, dimpling or redness
- Changes in the skin of the breast or nipple
These signs can also be caused by other, less serious conditions. If you notice any changes in your breasts, it’s important to see a doctor for evaluation.
- What is Stage 1 breast cancer?
Stage 1 breast cancer is an early stage of breast cancer in which the cancer is confined to the breast tissue and has not spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body. In stage 1 breast cancer, the tumor measures up to 2 centimeters (about 3/4 inch) in diameter and has not spread outside the breast. There are two types of stage 1 breast cancer: Stage 1A and Stage 1B:
- Stage 1A breast cancer is characterized by a small tumor(<2cm) in the breast tissue and has not spread beyond the breast tissue.
Stage 1B breast cancer is characterized by presence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes near to breast tissue with or without presence of tumor in the breast tissue. If a tumor is present in breast tissues, size is less than 2cms.
- Is breast cancer very serious?
Breast cancer is a serious condition, but the seriousness of the cancer can vary depending on factors such as the stage of the cancer, the type of breast cancer, and the individual’s overall health. Some types of breast cancer are less aggressive and may be easier to treat, while others may be more aggressive and require more intensive treatment. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer can greatly improve outcomes and increase the chances of a full recovery.
- Is Stage 2 breast cancer curable?
Stage 2 breast cancer is often treatable with better outcomes with appropriate and timely treatment. Treatment options for stage 2 breast cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these, depending on the individual case.
- Can a 25 year old get breast cancer?
Yes, breast cancer can occur in young women, including those who are 25 years old. While breast cancer is more common in older women, it can occur at any age. Breast cancer in young women may have different characteristics and risk factors. Some risk factors for breast cancer in young women include a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, certain genetic mutations, previous radiation therapy to the chest, and early onset of menstruation.
- How to avoid breast cancer?
There is no guaranteed way to completely prevent breast cancer, but there are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk:
- Self-exam breasts regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Regularly exercise to prevent breast cancer
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Quit smoking
- How urgent is breast cancer surgery?
The urgency of breast cancer surgery depends on several factors, including the stage of the cancer, the type of breast cancer, and individual patient factors. In general, surgery is often considered an urgent or priority treatment for breast cancer. In some cases, surgery may be the first step in treatment to remove the cancerous tissue and prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. While in some other cases, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be recommended before surgery to shrink the tumor or prevent the cancer from spreading.
- What age is risky for breast cancer?
Breast cancer can occur at any age, but the risk of developing breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. The majority of breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50. However, breast cancer can occur in women of all ages, including those in their 20s and 30s.
- Can breast cancer happen to unmarried girls?
Yes, breast cancer can occur in unmarried girls or women who have never been married. Being married or not does not affect the risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is a disease that can affect women of all ages, races, and ethnicities, regardless of their marital status.
- Can breast cancer be cured?
In many cases, breast cancer can be treated with better outcomes and survival rate.. The success of breast cancer treatment depends on several factors like the stage of the cancer at diagnosis, the type of breast cancer, and the individual characteristics of the patient.
Early detection is key to successful treatment of breast cancer. If breast cancer is detected early, it may be possible to treat the cancer with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. In some cases, breast cancer may come back or recur after treatment but further treatment may still be effective in treating and controlling the cancer.
- Is zinc good for breast cancer?
Some research suggests that optimal intake of zinc plays an important role in protecting one from breast cancer. It is recommended to speak to a doctor to get more clarity.
- How to check breast cancer?
There are different ways to check or diagnose breast cancer:
- Clinical Breast Exam
- How can I test for breast cancer at home?
You can self-examine your breasts at home. In fact, women should perform a breast self-examination at least once a month. This can be done in the shower or lying down. Look for any changes in the size or shape of the breast, lumps or thickening in the breast or underarm area, dimpling or puckering of the skin, nipple changes, or discharge.If any abnormality noticed then consult the specialist for clinical examination and investigation to come to a diagnosis. Do not self-diagnose as cancer if any above symptoms are observed while self-examination.
- Do breast lumps hurt?
Breast lumps can be painful or painless, depending on the cause. Not all breast lumps are cancerous, and many are benign (non-cancerous). Some women may experience pain or discomfort due to hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle or due to benign breast conditions such as fibrocystic breast changes, which can cause lumps or cysts to develop. These lumps may be tender or painful to the touch. However, it is important to seek medical attention if you notice any changes in your breast, including the development of a lump, even if it is not painful.
- Are lumps in my breast normal?
It is common for women to experience lumps in their breasts, especially during their menstrual cycle. Most of the time, breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous), caused by a variety of factors like hormonal changes, cysts, fibroadenomas, or other non-cancerous growths. However, if you notice a lump or a change in the size, shape, or texture of your breast, it is important to have it evaluated by a healthcare provider.
- Do cancerous lumps move?
Cancerous breast lumps may or may not move, depending on the type of cancer and its location in the breast tissue. Some breast cancers can be felt as a firm, immovable lump, while others may be more mobile. In general, cancerous breast lumps tend to be harder and feel more irregular than benign lumps, which may be softer and more uniform in shape. However, it is important to note that the texture, shape, and mobility of a lump alone cannot determine whether or not it is cancerous.
- Why is my breast hurting on one side?
There are several possible reasons why your left breast could be hurting like:
- Hormonal changes
- Injury or trauma
- Breast cysts
- Fibrocystic breast changes
- Infection or inflammation
- Breast cancer
If you are experiencing persistent or severe breast pain, it is important to have it evaluated by a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.
- Where is breast pain normal?
Breast pain can be normal in the following areas:
- Nipples: Some women may experience mild pain or tenderness in their nipples, which can be caused by hormonal changes or friction from clothing.
- Breast tissue: Mild Breast pain or tenderness can also occur in the breast tissue, especially during hormonal changes.
- Underarms: Breast tissue extends into the underarm area, and pain or tenderness in this area may be related to breast health.
It is important to note that while breast pain can be normal, persistent or severe pain should be evaluated by a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment. Additionally, any new or unusual breast pain should be evaluated promptly.
- Can gas cause left breast pain?
gas can cause left sided chest pain or discomfort. Gas can cause a range of symptoms, including bloating, cramping, and pain or discomfort in the chest and abdomen. When gas builds up in the digestive system, it can cause pressure and discomfort, which may be felt in the left Chest. But it’s very rare to feel the pain in the left breast tissue. Try to understand the pain location then consult the specialist. Is it inside the breast or behind the breast or bony part of the chest wall or inside the chest?.
- Which doctor to see for breast pain?
If you are experiencing breast pain, you may want to start by seeing your primary care physician or General surgeon, who can evaluate the pain and perform a breast exam. Depending on the underlying cause of the breast pain, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment.
- Is the pain behind my left breast serious?
Pain under the left breast can be caused by a variety of factors, some of which may be serious while others are not. Common causes of pain under the left breast include:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Muscle strain
- Cardiovascular issues
- Respiratory issues
- Breast problems
- How can I reduce breast pain?
There are several ways to reduce breast pain, including:
- Wear a well-fitted, supportive bra
- Apply heat or cold
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce caffeine and salt intake
If breast pain persists or is severe, consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.
- What does cancerous breast pain feel like?
Breast pain or tenderness is a common symptom experienced by many women and can have a variety of causes, including hormonal changes, injury, or infection. However, cancerous breast pain is relatively rare, and breast cancer is typically not associated with pain in its early stages.
Breast cancer can cause discomfort or pain in the breast or nipple area as it grows and spreads. The pain may be described as a dull ache or heaviness, or it may be sharp and piercing. However, many women with breast cancer do not experience any pain or discomfort in the affected breast.
Have more doubts on breast cancer? Consult an expert now!