Health Magazine

What is Breast Cancer?

Posted on the 06 October 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds

Breast cancer is a terrifying reality for some.

Contents

  • What is Cancer?
  • What are Tumors?
  • Breast Cancer in Particular
  • The Stages of breast cancer
  • Risk Factors and Prevention
  • Treatment Options
  • Wrap Up

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you're a football fan, that would be why so many teams were sporting pink on some part of their uniforms. I think we can all agree breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, is a terrible thing. It seems like everyone has had at least one person in their family that's battled cancer too. But what is cancer? In honor of all of the brave women and, less often, men that have dealt with breast cancer, let's raise awareness of what it is.

What is Cancer?

To understand breast cancer, in particular, it is pertinent to know what cancer, in general, is. Cancer is caused by mutations in your cellular makeup. More particular, it's a mutation in the genetics that regulate cell growth and reproduction. If you remember your high school biology class, you'll recall cell reproduction is a fairly consistent and regulated process. Over time, your cells "die" off and are replaced by new ones. The cell reproduction process is fairly consistent and produces enough cellular matter to replace what is lost.

When a cell mutates and becomes cancerous, the reproductive process is no longer regulated. Instead of producing enough cells to replace what is lost, these cells just continue replicating and dividing without end. These endlessly reproducing, mutated cells are what form tumors.

What are Tumors?

Tumors, as we just covered, are masses of cells that have grown together due to cellular mutation. Tumors come in one of two styles; malignant or benign. A benign tumor is deemed to not be dangerous to your health and are not considered to be cancerous. Their cellular makeup appears to normal, and a benign tumor's growth is slow. Benign tumors do not invade other, nearby tissue and they don't spread to other parts of your body.

Conversely, malignant tumors are not so harmless. Malignant tumors are the scary ones. They are cancerous and can spread to other tissues and organs. In a malignant tumor, the cells are evidently cancerous and the reproduction is much faster than benign tumors. This reproduction and spreading is why they are so scary. Their infection isn't contained to the original site. Without proper treatment, they will continue to grow and spread to other sites.

Breast Cancer in Particular

Now that we know a bit more about what cancer is, we're going to take a closer look at breast cancer in particular. Generally, breast cancer begins in either the lobules or the ducts. Lobules are the milk producing glands that we as mammals have. Ducts are the passageways from the lobules to the nipples. On more rare occasions, breast cancer can start in the stromal tissues, including the fatty and fibrous connective tissues in the breast. As we said earlier, cancer on it's own is scary, but the fact that it can spread to other areas is where the true terror of cancer lies. If left unchecked, or possibly even if checked, the cancerous cells in the breast will corrupt healthy breast tissue. These cancerous cells will continue their path of corruption into the lymph nodes under your arms. Lymph nodes are small organs that act as a filter for foreign substances in the body. If the cancer spreads here, it can then easily make it's why to other parts of your body.

Many people consider breast cancer to be a hereditary thing. Which is accurate for about 5 to 10% of cancer patients. The other 90% or so are a result of mutations of their own, once healthy, genes. This mutation can occur due to the aging process or just every day wear on your body. Either way, breast cancer is the result of some form of genetic abnormality.

The Stages of Breast Cancer

The stages of breast cancer are an indication of how much the cancer has spread.

Stage Meaning

Stage 0 The cancer is still contained within the breast duct, or lobules, and hasn't corrupted the surrounding normal breast tissue.

Stage 1 The cancer is at most two centimeters in diameter and it still confined to the breast. The lymph nodes are not yet affected.

Stage 2A 1) There is no presence of a tumor in the breast, but cancerous cells are present in the lymph nodes under your arms.
2) There is a tumor in the breast of no larger than 2 centimeters but has spread to the lymph nodes under your arm.
3) The cancer has not spread to your lymph nodes, but there is a tumor in the breast larger than 2 centimeters, but no bigger than 5 centimeters.

Stage 2B 1) The tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters, but now it has spread to the axillary(under arm) lymph nodes.
2) The tumor exceeds 5 centimeters in size but is contained to the breast, not yet spreading to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage 3A 1) There is no tumor in the breast, but cancer is present in the axillary lymph nodes. The cancer in the lymph nodes is now sticking together, potentially forming tumors, or the lymph node cancer is close to the breastbone.
2) There is a tumor in the breast tissue and the cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes. The cancer in the lymph nodes is sticking to other cells or structures. Or the cancer may be very close to the breastbone.

Stage 3B The tumor in the breast is of any size and the cancer has spread to the wall and/or skin of the breast. The cancer may have also spread to the axillary lymph nodes and is sticking together or to other structures. The cancer may also have reached the lymph nodes near the breastbone.

Stage 3C The tumor in the breast is of any size and the cancer has spread to the wall and/or skin of the breast. There may also be no sign of cancer in the breast. The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes either above or below the collarbone. The cancer may have also spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage 4 The can has metastasized, or spread, to the other body parts.

Risk Factors and Prevention

It's not possible to fully insulate yourself from the possibility of cancer, but you can make sure you're not encouraging risk factors. There are some risk factors that you can't prevent against unless you're born a certain way. Being a female is a risk factor, but there isn't anything you can do about that unless you have a Y chromosome. Age is another risk factor. Approximately two out of three invasive breast cancers occur in women 55 and older. Family history and genetics are two other risk factors you can't do anything about. As we discussed earlier, between 5% and 10% of breast cancer is thought to be hereditary, meaning abnormal genetics were passed down from a parent. Women who have close family members with breast cancer are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Unfortunately, if you have a first degree female relative (mother, daughter or sister) with cancer, you are at double the risk of normal women.

There are some things you can control that will help decrease your risk though. First off being your weight. Overweight and obese women are at much higher risk of developing cancer than women at a healthy weight. Also, there is an apparent link between regular exercise and reduced risk of cancer. Four to seven hours a week is recommended. Woman that have had a full-term pregnancy are at less risk than other women. Also, women that have their first child after the age of 30 are at higher risk. Breast feeding is another pregnancy related cancer inhibitor. Women that breast feed are at lower risk for cancer, especially if they breast fed for more than 1 year. Women that drink alcohol are shown to be at higher risk than those that abstain from it. Smoking is another risk factor for breast cancer, and a host of other diseases. I highly recommend avoiding smoking, first or second hand, at all costs.

Treatment Options

It would be beyond excellent if no one had to know or go through on of these options, but unfortunately that isn't in our near future. Check out the source link at the bottom for more information about all of these treatments.

Surgery

From a surgical standpoint, the goal is to remove the cancerous matter. This can be accomplished by either a lumpectomy, a mastectomy or a lymph node dissection.

Chemotherapy

This is the one you usually associate with cancer of any kind. Chemotherapy has been successful for many cancer patients in the past. Chemo, for short, involves using medicine to weaken and destroy the cancerous cells in your body. Since the chemicals are pretty potent, chemo tends to do a number on your body in the process of killing the cancer.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, or just radiotherapy, has also been shown to be highly effective against breast cancer that linger after a surgery. It involved very precise and targeted radiation being used to destroy the cancerous cells.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy treats cancer in two ways. First, by lowering the amount of estrogen in your body. Secondly, it blocks the effects of estrogen on breast cancer cells. Hormonal therapy is only effective against hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.

There are more treatments for breast cancer, but I just touched on the more popular ones. For the rest of the list, check out the source link.

Wrap Up

I'm by no means a doctor or medical researcher; this article is just meant as a cursory guide to the cancer. There is a wealth of information out there that goes into much great detail about cancer. I just wanted to give a bit of insight into what people with breast cancer are experiencing internally. I sincerely hope that anyone out there with cancer a speedy and complete victory over it. And I very much hope that one day a cure for breast cancer is found. But, in the mean time, don't forget to check yourself for lumps and avoid the risk factors if at all possible. It may not be in good taste, but I've been wanting to say this since I began writing, so; save the tatas! Thanks for reading and hopefully none of you ever need to know this information.


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