The breasts of a woman play many functions in her life, physiologically and esthetically. From puberty tomenopause, the breasts are the object of attention and unfortunately fears. Women love to be complimented for their breast. The same, the discovery of a lump can cause psychological impact, although most breast lesions are benign (non-cancerous).
Anatomically, the breast is composed of mammary gland,suspensory ligaments(Cooper’s ligaments), fat (adipose tissue), as well as nerves, blood and lymph vessels which filter germs and protect the breasts against infection and disease; the entire organ is covered by the skin. The breasts are located over the pectoral muscle. Each mammary gland is divided into 15 to 20sections called lobes, compounds of lobules, which produce milk. These are connected to the ducts that go to the nipple. Breast cancer can develop in a lactiferous duct, a lobule as well as in the lymph nodes.
Breast cancer is a general term used to refer to any form of malignant tumor of the mammary gland. That is, the malignancy develops in the breast tissue whose function is to secrete milk, the ductal-lobular unit of the breast. Although the disease also affects men, it is mainly referred to women given it is diagnosed mostly in women, about 200 times more often than in men. Therefore, all cases of breast cancer in men combined are account for less than 1% of all cases in both men and women.
The development of cancer begins when a group of cells become belligerent and start multiply abnormally and uncontrollably. When it comes to breast cancer, the malignant cells can remain in the breast for a long time before spreading throughout the body through the blood or lymph vessels to form other cancers (metastases). In fact, the progression of certain types of breast cancer can take several months or even years before becoming metastatic, and advanced and life-threatening stage.
Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in women worldwide, both before and after menopause. It is not a condition that women can take slightly. It is estimated that about 1 in 9 women will be diagnosed with a form of breast cancer during her lifetime; as a result about 1 in 27 will die. But this is a tumor of good prognosis. The five years survival rate after diagnosis varies from 80% to 90%, depending on age and type of cancer.
Although the tumor also develops in young women, in most cases, breast cancer occurs after 50 years. Considering the generality of the disease, every woman has a good reason, regardless of race and geographic area, to start taking necessary or preventive measures from young ages to prevent its occurrence in their life. For more info on prevention methods, please visit our Cancer Prevention Section.
Different Types of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is classified in different types depending on the group of cells affected or the characteristics of the tumor. Pathogenically, breast cancer can be non-invasive or invasive. Each of these various types develops differently:
Non-invasive Breast Cancers
- Ductal carcinoma in situ(DCIS). As the name suggests, this tumor develops in the milk ducts of the breast. It is the most common form of noninvasive breast cancer in women. The tumor is slow to spread, although without treatment, it can become invasive, infiltrating outside the milk ducts. It seems DCIS is increasing with the extensive use of mammography. The good news is the fact it responds well to treatment; complete healing is obtained in almost all cases.
Invasive Breast Cancers
These forms of cancer tend to occur in the lobules or the ducts of the breast. Usually, the tumorinvades the tissues around the milk ducts but remain inside the breast. But without proper treatment to stop it, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body (bone, lung, liver and others) to form metastases. Metastatic breast cancer is a serious stage; the tumor is more difficult to be successfully treated and prognosis is not good. Among common types of invasive breast cancer include:
• Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). In this condition, the cancer cells start forming in the milk ducts, and then spread into other parts of the breast tissue. This is the most common form of invasive breast carcinoma, accounting for up to 80% of all breast cancer cases. Ductal carcinoma is also the most common men breast cancer.
• Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC). In this form of tumor, the formation of the cancer cells begin in the lobules, grouped in the lobes. Without an appropriate therapeutic intervention to stop their progression, the malignant cells will pass through the wall of the lobules to attack the surrounding tissue. ILC is the second most common form of invasive breastcancer, coming right after invasive ductal carcinoma.
- Inflammatory Carcinoma. Inflammatory breast cancer is arare malignant tumor characterized primarily by a diseased breast that may become red, swollen and hot. The disease can make the breast skin to take the form of an orange peel. This is a very aggressive form of tumor which tends to grow fast. It is very rare in men, but canoccur in women of any age. Inflammatory breast cancer does not respond well to treatment. The good news, the disease is not common; it is account for less than 5% of all breast cancer cases in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Please find out more on inflammatory breast cancer.• Other carcinomas. Some other rare types of breast cancer include medullary breast cancer (less than 5%), tubular breast cancer (about 2%), mucinous (colloid) breast cancer (less than 2%), and papillary breast cancer (less than 1%).
- Paget’s disease. Also known asPaget disease of thebreastand Paget’s diseaseof the nipple, this tumor is rare and characterized by a small wound on the nipple that does not heal. As the cancer progress, the lesion extends to the areolamammae, the colored circle of skin around the nipple. Without appropriate treatment, any simple Paget disease of the breast can turn to be serious.