October represents a special time of the year, as solidarity and awareness are demonstrated to combat breast cancer. It is the pink month, which draws attention to the importance of early detection and prevention of this malignant disease.
This month, we challenge disease, spread hope and optimism, and build bridges of awareness and solidarity. Let us remember that strength lies in awareness, and awareness grows with knowledge, and knowledge preserves our health and gives us hope, so follow this article with us, dear, to learn more about breast cancer, its causes, and its treatment.
In this Article
What is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a condition characterized by the abnormal growth of cells in the breast tissue, potentially affecting one or both breasts. This disease arises when cells start to proliferate uncontrollably, forming a lump or mass. While breast cancer predominantly impacts women, it is essential to note that men can also be affected. In fact, it ranks as the second most prevalent cancer among women, following skin cancer. Raising awareness about this disease is crucial to promote early detection and enhance treatment outcomes.
Breast cancer can invade and grow in the tissues surrounding the breast. It can also spread to other parts of the body through blood and lymphatic vessels and form new tumors. When this happens, it is called a malignant tumor.
Breast Cancer Types
There are several different types of breast cancer, which develop in different parts of the breast, including:
- Non-invasive breast cancer: It occurs in the breast ducts and does not spread to surrounding tissues. It is usually discovered during a television examination and rarely shows a lump in the breast.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: It is the most common type. It penetrates the membrane of the ducts, starting from the milk ducts in the breast, and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. This type constitutes about 80% of all cases.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: This type forms in the milk lobes, spreads to the tissues surrounding the breast and constitutes about 10-15% of cases.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ: It is a type of breast cancer in the zero stage. It originates in the milk ducts and is considered an initial condition because it does not spread to surrounding tissues.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): A pre-cancerous condition. This type is characterized by the presence of abnormal cells in the lobes (small parts) of the breast. Although it is not an actual cancer, it can indicate the possibility of breast cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory breast cancer: It is a rare type that develops rapidly. It causes redness, swelling, and pain in the affected breast when touched. It occurs when cancer cells block the lymphatic vessels in the skin covering the breast.
- Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC): It constitutes about 15% of all cases, and is one of the most difficult types of breast cancer to treat. It is called triple-negative because it does not contain three markers associated with other types of breast cancer, and this makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.
Breast Cancer Starting Places
The breast consists of different parts, and each part plays an important role in breast function and cancer development. Here is an explanation of each part:
- Lobules: These are the glands that produce breast milk, and the tumors that arise here are called lobular breast cancer.
- Ducts: These are the ones that carry milk from the lobes to the nipple, and the tumors that arise are called ductal cancer.
- Nipple: The opening in the skin of the breast and where milk exits. A rare type of breast cancer called Paget’s disease can begin in the nipple.
- Fat and connective tissue cells: Surround the ducts and lobes and help stabilize them. A rare type of breast cancer called phyllodes tumor can begin in the connective tissue of the breast.
- Blood vessels and lymphatic vessels in each breast: A rare type of breast cancer called angiosarcoma can start in the lining of these vessels.
Breast Cancer Stages
Before mentioning the stages of breast cancer, we explain the factors that determine these stages in the first place, including:
- Tumor size.
- The spread of the tumor to surrounding tissues.
- The spread of cancer cells to the lymph nodes.
- The presence of distant spread of cancer cells: Evaluating whether cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, or liver, and this affects determining the stage of the cancer.
- The presence of cancer receptor hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
- The presence of epidermal growth factor receptor 2 in humans (HER2): It is a type of protein receptor on breast cells. If its number increases, it makes cancer cells more aggressive and grow rapidly. Determining its presence affects treatment options and disease prognosis.
Determining the stages of breast cancer requires a comprehensive evaluation of these factors, which is performed by specialist doctors based on the results obtained from various examinations and analyses.
The stages of breast cancer include:
At this stage, the disease is confined to the mammary ducts and has not spread to surrounding tissues. It is also called non-invasive cancer.
The first stage of breast cancer can be divided into two parts:
- Stage 1A: The size of the primary tumor at this stage is about 2 cm or less, and there is no spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 1B: At this stage, cancer cells are present in the lymph nodes adjacent to the breast, without a tumor in the breast itself, or the tumor in the breast may be less than 2 cm in size.
Stage II describes invasive breast cancer, and there are two categories:
- Stage A: A tumor may not be found in the breast, but the cancer cells have spread to 1-3 lymph nodes, or a 2-5 cm tumor may appear in the breast with or without spread to the underarm lymph nodes.
- Stage B: The tumor is 2-5 cm in size, and the disease has spread to 1-3 underarm lymph nodes, or the tumor is larger than 5 cm but has not spread to the underarm lymph nodes.
It is divided into three stages:
- Stage IIIA: The size of the tumor in this stage exceeds 5 cm, and as the tumor spreads to 1-3 nearby lymph nodes or one of the nodes of the chest bones. The tumor can also spread to 4-9 lymph nodes in the underarm area, or cause enlargement in the lymph nodes in the breast.
- Stage IIIB: The tumor in this type has spread to the chest wall or skin. The tumor may be of varying size and may or may not spread to up to 9 lymph nodes.
- Stage IIIC: Cancer cells in this type have spread to 10 or more lymph nodes in the armpit area, lymph nodes near the collarbone, or internal breast lymph nodes.
Known as the advanced stage, the tumor in the breast can be any size, and the disease has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, brain, liver, distant lymph nodes or chest wall.
Although it is not possible to completely cure at this stage, treatment can help slow the progression of the disease, improve outcomes and extend life.
Breast Cancer Signs
Breast cancer symptoms vary from person to person, and possible signs of breast cancer may include:
- Change in the size, shape, or circumference of the breast.
- A lump or swelling, which may be the size of a pea.
- The presence of a lump or enlargement in or near the breast, or in the area under the armpit that persists throughout the menstrual cycle.
- Change in the appearance or texture of the skin on the breast or nipple (puffiness or wrinkles).
- Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple.
- The nipple turns inward.
- Hardening of the skin similar to marbling under the skin.
- Peeling of the nipple skin.
- Leakage of blood-colored or clear fluid from the nipple.
Some people don’t notice any signs at all, so regular checkups are very important.
Breast Cancer Causes
Breast cancer develops when abnormal cells multiply in the breast. However, doctors do not know exactly what causes this disease to begin with.
But research indicates that there are several factors that increase the risk of infection, and these factors include:
- Age: Getting older (55 years or older) increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Gender: Women are more susceptible to infection than men.
- Family history and genetics: If you have a parent, sibling, or other relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer, you are more likely to develop the disease at some point in your life. In 5-10% of cases, there are single abnormal genetic changes that are transmitted from parents to children, and can be detected through genetic tests.
- Smoking: Tobacco use is linked to many types of cancer, including breast cancer.
- Alcohol consumption: Research suggests that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of certain types of breast cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity increases the risk of cancer and its recurrence because being overweight increases estrogen levels in the body.
- Radiation exposure: If you’ve received previous radiation therapy, especially to the head, neck, or chest, you’re at higher risk.
- Hormone therapy: Women who use hormonal therapy, such as medications containing estrogen and progesterone, to control symptoms associated with menopause have a higher risk of infection.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Your doctor will perform a breast exam and will ask you for information about your family health history and symptoms. He or she will also recommend tests to check for abnormal breast changes. These tests can include:
- Mammogram: Through which changes or abnormal growth in the breast can be detected.
- Ultrasonography: This test uses sound waves to take pictures of the internal tissues of the breast.
- Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Used to obtain clear, detailed images of the inside of the breast.
- Biopsy: A test in which a sample of tissue or fluid is taken from the breast; To examine it under a microscope and perform additional tests.
There are different types of biopsy, such as: fine-needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, in which a larger needle is used to remove the sample, and surgical biopsy.
The doctor may refer the woman to a surgeon. However, it does not necessarily mean that she has cancer or that she needs surgery, but for the diagnosis to be more accurate.
Heroic Stories of 3 Heroic Women
Learn about the stories of the warriors who faced the challenges of breast cancer with courage and determination, those exceptional women who refused to give up and made a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
- Maryam Nour: The Lebanese writer and journalist who chose alternative treatments to overcome the disease.
- Samia Al-Adawi: The Saudi doctor who broke the silence and shared her healing experience in her famous book, “Memoirs of a Saudi Woman,” and received the US State Department’s Women’s Courage Award.
- Ghada Salah Gad: A strong and inspiring woman. She was shocked by the diagnosis of breast cancer. She refused to give up and began a strong journey in the face of the disease. In her inspiring book entitled “The Female Who Saved Me,” Ghada shared her personal experience and talked about the pain and concerns that accompanied her on her journey.
These strong women are a source of inspiration and motivation for everyone, their lives have changed and they have become a symbol of hope and challenge.
Breast Cancer Treatment
There are different treatment options but it depends on several factors, including the location and size of the tumor, laboratory results, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. The doctor will customize the treatment plan according to your individual needs.
There are different types of surgery depending on your condition, including:
- Lumpectomy: The tumor and a small area of surrounding healthy tissue are removed. Usually, some lymph nodes in the breast or under the armpit are also removed for evaluation. People who have a partial lumpectomy often receive radiation treatment in the weeks following surgery.
- Mastectomy: Removing the entire breast is another option. In some cases, doctors can perform a mastectomy that spares the nipple and rosacea (dark skin around the nipple), and many women choose breast reconstruction.
- Sentinel Node Biopsy: It is a surgical procedure that aims to take a sample from the first lymph node to which cancer can spread. If it is observed that there are no cancer cells in this lymph node, there is no need to perform removal of other lymph nodes.
With this procedure, we avoid unnecessary surgical procedure; To remove lymph nodes and reduce the risk of complications such as lymphoma.
- Axillary lymph node biopsy: It is a procedure to remove cancerous lymph nodes under the armpit, aiming to prevent the spread of the disease and reduce complications.
- Radical Mastectomy: A surgical procedure that involves removing the entire breast and nipple, along with removing the lymph nodes in the armpit area. The operation preserves the muscles in the chest. This procedure is used when there is spread of cancer in the breast or nearby lymph nodes.
Medications are used to weaken and destroy cancer cells in the body. This treatment affects the body comprehensively and is usually used in conjunction with surgical treatment of breast cancer.
Chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor before surgery and to kill remaining cancer cells after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It is also used in advanced stages to destroy cancer cells in other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy is accompanied by side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, and fatigue. Your health care team will monitor and manage these side effects; To improve the patient’s quality of life during chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy for breast cancer is performed after resection; To kill remaining cancer cells and reduce the possibility of cancer returning, radiation is used to target and destroy cancer cells. Treatment may cause fatigue and skin redness in the treatment area. The necessary care is provided to deal with side effects and support the patient during the procedure.
Hormone therapy is based on growth hormones, and works to reduce estrogen levels or prevent it from binding to cancer cells. It is usually used after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer returning. It may also be used before surgery to shrink the size of the tumor or to treat metastatic cancer in its advanced stages.
Some medications can target characteristics of specific cells that cause cancer. Your doctor may recommend drug therapy in cases where breast cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Examples of some of the most common medications include:
Psychological Support to Breast Cancer Patients
- Regular communication: Maintain constant communication with her, listen carefully to what she feels and what she expresses, and provide some advice if appropriate. Make her feel loved and cared for through your constant presence.
- Help with daily tasks: Ask her to help her with some things, such as doing some shopping or other household tasks. This helps her relieve stress and fatigue and enhances the feeling of support.
- Taking care of children: The patient may need help in caring for her children, so provide assistance in this aspect to ease her burden and enable her to focus on her treatment and needs.
- Assistance with nutrition: The patient may feel tired and may find it difficult to prepare food. Help her prepare healthy meals at times when she is tired; This is to meet its nutritional needs and enhance its strength.
- Direct her to professional sources of support: If her mental condition deteriorates, provide her with support in finding a specialized psychiatrist who can help her deal with the psychological challenges associated with the disease.
Breast Cancer Prevention
Breast cancer cannot be completely avoided, but there are some measures you can take to reduce the risk of discovering it in advanced stages. Here are some important tips:
- Conduct routine breast examinations: The American Cancer Society recommends performing a mammogram at age 35, and an annual examination after age 40. This helps detect any early changes.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle, maintain a balanced weight, Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of injury.
- Limit exposure to harmful factors. Try to avoid excessive exposure to harmful chemicals and environmental pollutants that may increase the risk of injury. Please follow safety and prevention guidelines in the workplace and at home.
- Breast examination by a doctor: You can examine your breasts at least once every three years starting at the age of 20, and once a year after the age of 40, as a clinical breast examination can detect swellings that may not be detected by a mammogram.
In conclusion, my dear, you are strong and wonderful with everything you carry within you. Always remember that the difficulties you are facing now will not last forever. With your confidence and will, you will overcome breast cancer and return full of happiness and health.
Seek help from loving and supportive people in your life, as they will be by your side at every step, and embrace hope and optimism, as they are the strength that carries you forward.
Frequently Asked Questions about Breast Cancer
How do I differentiate between breast glands and a tumor?
Normal breast glands are soft and mobile, and may cause slight pain during menstruation, while breast tumors usually do not cause pain and are solid and firm. Therefore, you should consult a doctor to confirm the nature of the changes in the breast.
How painful is breast cancer?
Breast cancer pain varies from one case to another and depends on several factors such as the stage of the cancer and its spread. The pain may be varied in intensity and nature, such as aching, burning, heaviness, or tingling. It can be continuous or intermittent, and may change over time.