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Breast Cancer: Overview

Breast Cancer: Overview

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What is Breast Cancer? Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer


What is Breast Cancer?

When mutations occur in genes that control cell growth, they cause cells to divide and multiply uncontrollably.

Breast cancer originates in breast cells, usually in the lobules or ducts. Lobules are the glands that produce milk, while ducts are the pathways that carry milk from the gland to the nipple. Additionally, fatty or fibrous connective tissue within the breast can cause cancer.

These uncontrolled cancer cells often invade nearby healthy breast tissue and can spread to lymph nodes under the arms. Once the cancer reaches the lymph nodes, it can travel to other parts of the body, increasing the risk of further spread.



Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that originates in breast cells. It is the most common cancer in women worldwide, although it can also occur in men. The disease usually starts in the lobules, which are the glands responsible for producing milk, or the ducts, which are the pathways that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple. In some cases, cancer can also develop in the fatty or fibrous connective tissue of the breast.

Breast cancer development is primarily driven by mutations in genes that control cell growth. These genetic changes cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, forming a tumor. As the cancer progresses, these malignant cells can invade the surrounding healthy breast tissue. In addition, breast cancer can metastasize or spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system. When cancer cells reach the lymph nodes under the arms, they gain access to a network that can transport them to other areas, creating a significant risk for further spread.

Early detection and treatment of breast cancer is crucial to improving outcomes. Regular screening procedures, such as mammograms, can help detect cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable. Treatment options vary depending on the type and stage of cancer and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy. Advances in medical research continue to improve the effectiveness of these treatments, offering hope for better survival rates and quality of life for breast cancer patients.


Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer:

  1. Lump or Mass in the Breast:
    • The most common sign of breast cancer is the presence of a new lump or mass in the breast. Cancerous lumps are often hard, irregular in shape, and painless. However, some lumps can be soft, tender, and rounded. Regular self-examinations can help you become familiar with the normal feel of your breasts, making it easier to notice any changes.
  2. Change in Breast Size or Shape:
    • Unexplained changes in the size or shape of the breast can indicate the presence of breast cancer. This could include one breast becoming noticeably larger or a change in the contour of the breast, such as flattening or bulging in a particular area.
  3. Skin Changes:
    • Any alterations in the skin’s texture or appearance, such as redness, dimpling, or puckering, should be examined. Dimpling might make the skin look like an orange peel (a condition known as peau d’orange), which is a characteristic sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
  4. Nipple Changes:
    • Changes in the nipple’s appearance, such as inversion (turning inward), retraction, or unusual changes in size or shape, can be a sign of breast cancer. Additionally, any nipple discharge that is not breast milk, especially if it is bloody or occurs without squeezing the nipple, should be investigated.
  5. Pain:
    • While most breast cancers are not painful in the early stages, persistent pain in the breast or nipple that is not related to the menstrual cycle can be a symptom of breast cancer. This pain can range from a dull ache to sharp, stabbing sensations.
  6. Swelling:
    • Swelling in part or all of the breast, even without a detectable lump, can be a symptom of breast cancer. This swelling might also extend to the armpit, indicating that the lymph nodes are affected.
  7. Lymph Node Changes:
    • Swelling or lumps in the lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone can signal that breast cancer has spread to these areas. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are part of the body’s immune system, and changes in them can indicate an immune response to cancer.
  8. Breast or Nipple Skin:
    • Thickening, scaliness, or flaking of the skin on the breast or nipple can be indicative of Paget’s disease of the breast, a rare form of breast cancer. These changes can resemble eczema and might be accompanied by itching or redness.
  9. Unexplained Weight Loss:
    • Sudden and unexplained weight loss can sometimes be a sign of advanced breast cancer. As cancer cells consume more energy than normal cells, the body may start losing weight rapidly without any change in diet or physical activity.


The importance of consulting a healthcare professional

It is important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than breast cancer. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation. Early detection of breast cancer greatly improves the chances of successful treatment. Your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy to determine the cause of these symptoms and plan the most effective treatment.



Read more: Strengthen Yourself: 10 Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk