Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Research shows that one in eight women will develop an invasive version over the course of their lifetime. It can seem scary and overwhelming, but being aware of the warning signs and understanding the disease can help put your mind at ease. Here is what you should know:
Put simply, the cancer starts when cells in the breast grow out of control and form a tumor that feels like a lump or is detected on an x-ray. If the cells in the tumor grow and start to attack surrounding tissues or begin to spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), the tumor is considered malignant. Most of these cells form in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple, but some begin in the glands that make breast milk and in other breast tissue.
There’s more than one type
Many people think that there is only one type of breast cancer. However, the cancer can develop in different areas of the breast in a variety of ways, so that’s not the case. There are several types and sub-types, such as inflammatory, non-invasive, invasive, HER2-positive, estrogen-positive and triple negative. Each type gets its own treatment plan, and each treatment plan is tailored to a specific case. For instance, if you were diagnosed at 25 with the same type of cancer as someone diagnosed at 60, you may have a different prognosis and require more or less care.
Warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer
The most common sign is a lump in your breast, but it can present itself in several other ways. You should look out for signs such as swelling in or around your breast, armpit or collarbone, nipple discharge, skin redness or thickening, breast pain, changes in breast or nipple size, dimpling or puckering of the skin or itchy or scaly rash on the nipple. Remember that non-cancerous breast conditions are more common than cancerous ones. Always let your doctor know if anything changes in your breast.
Detecting breast cancer early on is linked to better prognoses. That is why you’ve probably seen advertisements and commercials raving about the importance of getting yearly screening mammograms. Although they are important, early detection doesn’t guarantee a cancer-free life. Unfortunately, 20 to 30 percent of women who are diagnosed early are still faced with a cancer that metastasizes later in life.
Who is at risk?
This disease doesn’t just attack older women. Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s are at risk. It also doesn’t discriminate based on gender. You may hear "breast" and think there’s no way that men can develop this type of cancer. If you do, you’re wrong. Although the risk for men is less than it is for women (1 in 1,000), they are still at risk, especially men that have a genetic mutation, a family history or have received radiation in the chest area. No matter your age or gender, it is important to be aware!