Breast Cancer Facts
November 2, 2019
Understanding Breast Cancer
Many women know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or have recently received a diagnosis themselves. In fact, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It can be overwhelming, so we want to provide some basic information to help demystify the disease. As we like to say, breast health knowledge is power.
What Is Breast Cancer?
These are the parts of the breast that are constantly mentioned when talking about breast cancer:
• Adipose Tissue
The majority of the breast is made up of fatty cells called adipose tissue, which extends from the collarbone down to the armpit and across to the center of the ribcage.
• Lobes, Lobules and Milk Ducts
A healthy breast is divided into 12–20 sections called lobes. Every lobe is made up of lots of smaller lobules, the glands that produce milk in nursing women. Milk ducts are the tubes that connect lobes and lobules, and carry milk to the nipple.
• Lymph System
Part of the immune system, this network of lymph nodes and blood vessels runs through the body to deliver disease-fighting cells and fluids. Clusters of bean-shaped lymph nodes filter abnormal cells away from healthy tissue and are found in the breast’s adipose tissue along with ligaments, fibrous connective tissue, nerves, lymph vessels, and blood vessels.
Where Does Breast Cancer Start?
It usually begins in the inner lining of the milk ducts or the lobules. When cancer spreads to other parts of the breast it’s known as invasive.
What are the signs of breast cancer?
Some of the earliest symptoms of breast cancer are an area of thickened breast tissue or a lump in the breast of armpit. Even though most lumps are not cancerous, it’s a good idea to have any breast changes checked out by your doctor. Other symptoms include:
• Swelling of part or the entire breast
• Irritated skin or dimpling that can look like an orange peel
• Breast or nipple pain
• Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple skin
• Nipple discharge other than milk
It’s important to know that many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. That’s why it’s so crucial to do regular breast self-exams and screenings.
Are there different types of breast cancer?
There are many kinds of breast cancer and some are more common than others. Below are descriptions of 5 forms of the disease.
• Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
This very early form of breast cancer occurs when cancer cells are found only inside the milk ducts and haven’t yet spread to the rest of the breast tissue.
• Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)
The most common form of the breast cancer, 80% of all cases fall into this category. It’s called “invasive” because cancer that starts in the milk ducts has spread to surrounding tissue and can invade other parts of the body.
• Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
Characterized by abnormal cells in the milk glands, LCIS is not technically cancer. However, women with this diagnosis do have a higher chance of developing cancer.
• Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILB)
Accounting for nearly 10% of all cases, this is the 2nd most common type of breast cancer. Similar to IDC, this invasive form begins in the milk glands and can spread to other parts of the breast and body.
• Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
A rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, IBC may not show up on a mammogram because there is no lump. The main symptoms are swelling and redness which can come on suddenly.
What are the treatment options?
The two main approaches for treating cancer are local and systemic, and both are often used together. Local treatments target cancer at the source and include surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy) and radiation. Systemic treatments effect the entire body and include chemotherapy and hormone therapy. The treatments your doctor chooses depends on several factors including the type, stage and grade of the cancer, the likelihood of that method curing the cancer, your age, and more. Your doctor will take all of these factors into account to create a custom plan that has the best outcome possible.