Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In the U.S., a woman's lifetime probability of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8.
While the incidence of breast cancer has increased, survival of the disease is at an all time high. Breast cancer detected early can usually be treated successfully.
A woman's breast is made up of:
- Glands called lobules (that produce milk)
- Ducts (that carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple)
- Fat cells
- Connective tissue
- Blood vessels
- Lymph system
Types of breast cancer
Breast cancer is a tumor (carcinoma or malignancy) that develops from cells in the breast. There are more than 15 types of breast cancer. The 2 main types of breast cancer are:
- In Situ - cancer that begins in the duct of the breast and is contained inside the wall of the duct.
- Infiltrating (invasive) – cancer that breaks through the ductal wall and spreads to the fatty tissue of the breast. About 80% of invasive breast cancer is this type.
- In Situ - an overgrowth of cells that stay inside the lobule. It is not a true cancer, but a warning sign of increased risk for developing invasive cancer in the future.
- Infiltrating (invasive) – cancer that breaks through the lobules and spreads to nearby tissue. About 10% of invasive breast cancer is of this type.
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. Often, there are no symptoms at all. But as cancer grows, it can cause:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge, tenderness or inversion
- Ridges or pitting of breast (skin looks like the skin of an orange)
- Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
The least common type of breast cancer is inflammatory breast cancer. It is breast cancer that does not appear like breast cancer. The symptoms can be very different from common breast cancer symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Rapid increase in breast size
- Skin hot to touch
- Persistent itching
- Thickening of breast tissue
Some of the risk factors that may raise the risk of breast cancer include:
- Family history of breast cancer (especially in a first degree relative, like mother or sister)
- Benign breast disease
- Early onset of menstruation
- Late onset of menopause
- First child born after age 30
- No full-term pregnancies
- Long-term use of postmenopausal hormones
However, the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any risk factors.
Some ways that have been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer include:
- Limited alcohol intake
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Increasing vegetable intake