Did you know that breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women? It is also the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 268,600 women will receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer, and 62,930 people will receive a diagnosis of noninvasive cancer in 2019.* Breast cancer typically forms in either the lobules or the ducts of the breasts. Lobules are the glands that produce milk, and ducts are the pathways that bring the glands to the nipple. Cancer can occur in the fatty tissue or the fibrous connective tissue within your breast. Often the uncontrolled cancer cells can invade other healthy breast tissue and travel to the lymph nodes under the arms. Cancer cells can then move to other parts of the body through the lymph nodes.
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear. However, many women with breast cancer have no symptoms, which is why screening is very important. The sooner breast cancer gets diagnosed, the better your odds of getting successful treatment. There are many different tests that can be used to look for and diagnose breast cancer – mammograms, breast ultrasound, breast MRI and other imaging tests. If your doctor finds an area of concern on a screening test, or if you have symptoms that could mean breast cancer, your doctor may advise the need for additional test. A biopsy is done when mammograms, other imaging tests, or a physical exam shows a breast change that may be cancer. A biopsy is the best way to know for sure if it’s cancer.
A tumor may be too small to be felt, but an abnormality can still be seen on a mammogram. Although not all lumps are cancer, the first signs of breast cancer usually appear as an area of thickened tissue in the breast, or a lump in the breast or armpit. Each type of breast cancer can cause a variety of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are similar but can be different. The most common symptoms of breast cancer include:
Most breast lumps are not cancerous and having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. If you find a lump in your breast or have these similar symptoms, you should see your doctor for further examination and testing.
There are several different types of breast cancer, they are usually categorized as invasive and noninvasive or in situ. Invasive breast cancer occurs when the cancer cells break out from inside the lobules or ducts and invade nearby tissue. The chances of cancer spreading to other parts of the body increases with invasive breast cancer. Noninvasive breast cancer occurs when the cancer remains inside its place of origin and has not yet spread. These cells can sometimes progress to invasive breast cancer.**
There are risk factors that you can change and other that can’t be avoided, such as family history. Several risk factors increase your chances of getting breast cancer. A few known risk factors of breast cancer include:
Breast cancer survival rates are usually based on two important factors – the type of cancer you have and the stage of the cancer at the time you receive diagnosis. Other factors that may play a role include your age, gender, and race.
Although there are risk factors that are out of your control, there are also preventative measures that can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting more exercise could help you lose weight and lower your risk. Drinking too much alcohol is another factor that increases your risk. Regular breast screenings such as mammograms can help reduce the odds that breast cancer will go undetected. If your mother or father has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you’re at higher risk of developing breast cancer as well. If you think you’re at risk for this mutation, talk to your doctor about prophylactic treatment options. Women should do a breast self-examination once a month, at the same time each month. If you feel that any changes have occurred, consult your doctor immediately.
If you are being or have been treated for breast cancer, it may be difficult to manage your daily life and navigate the issues that come along with the diagnosis of breast cancer. Everyday realities such as staying organized, paying for treatment, maintaining a job, making lifestyle changes, and managing symptoms and side effects. With advances in early detection and treatment, more women than ever are surviving breast cancer. These women (or men) often are eager to get back to their normal activities, but side effects from treatment sometimes hold them back. However, there are options that can help you get back to your normal everyday activities like a breast cancer rehabilitation program. A rehabilitation program addresses the physical and psychosocial aspects of breast cancer, when presented and at recurrence. The primary goal of a breast cancer rehabilitation program is to share research, clinical experiences and opinions where we can create the connections and conversations required for moving forward for: breast cancer survivors, family members and health professionals. Join the online Breast Cancer Rehabilitation & Wellness Summit, where amazing clinicians across the world share how they’ve been working on adapting interventions to suit breast cancer survivor’s recovery needs.