What is breast cancer?

Cancer develops when changes called mutations to arise in genes that control cell development. The mutations allow the cells to divide and replicate in an unregulated manner.

Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that arises in breast cells. Typically, breast cancer develops in the lobules or ducts.

Lobules are milk-producing glands, while ducts are the channels that carry milk from the glands to the nipple. Cancer can also develop in the fatty tissue or fibrous connective tissue of your breast.

Uncontrolled cancer cells frequently infect other healthy breast tissue and can move to lymph nodes beneath the arms. The lymph nodes are the main conduit that allows cancer cells to spread to other regions of the body.

Breast cancer signs and symptoms

In the early stages of breast cancer, there may be no symptoms. A tumour may be too tiny to be felt in many circumstances, yet an anomaly on mammography can still be observed.

If a tumour can be felt, the first indicator is generally the appearance of a new lump in the breast that was not previously there. Not all lumps, however, are cancerous. Each form of breast cancer can produce a wide range of symptoms. Most of these symptoms are similar, but some are unique. The most common breast cancer symptoms are as follows:

  • a recent breast lump or tissue thickening that feels distinct from surrounding tissue
  • breast pain
  • red pitted skin over your entire breast
  • swelling in all or part of your breast
  • a nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • bloody discharge from your nipple
  • peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on your nipple or breast
  • a sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of your breast
  • inverted nipple
  • changes to the appearance of the skin on your breasts
  • a lump or swelling under your arm

If you have any of these symptoms, it does not necessarily indicate that you have breast cancer. A benign cyst, for example, might produce pain or a lump in your breast. However, if you discover a lump in your breast or experience other symptoms, you should consult your doctor for additional evaluation and testing.

Types of breast cancer

Types of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is classified into two types: invasive and noninvasive (or in situ). Invasive cancer has moved from the breast ducts or glands to other parts of the breast, whereas noninvasive cancer has not spread from the originating tissue.

These two classifications are used to characterise the most frequent kinds of breast cancer, which are as follows:

In situ ductal carcinoma: DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is a noninvasive condition. The cancer cells in DCIS are restricted to the ducts in your breast and have not spread to the surrounding breast tissue.

In situ lobular cancer: Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is a kind of breast cancer that develops in the milk-producing glands. The cancer cells, like DCIS, have not penetrated the surrounding tissue.

Invasive ductal carcinoma: The most frequent kind of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). This kind of breast cancer develops in the milk ducts of your breast and then spreads to adjacent tissue in the breast. Breast cancer can spread to other neighbouring organs and tissue if it has migrated to the tissue outside your milk ducts.

Invasive lobular carcinoma: Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) begins in the lobules of your breast and spreads to adjacent tissue. Other, less prevalent kinds of breast cancer include as follows:

Paget’s disease of the nipple: This kind of breast cancer originates in the ducts of the nipple but spreads to the skin and areola of the nipple as it develops.

Tumour caused by Phyllodes: This extremely rare kind of breast cancer develops in the breast’s connective tissue. The vast majority of these tumours are benign, but a few are malignant.

Angiosarcoma: Angiosarcoma is a tumour that originates in the breast’s blood vessels or lymph vessels. Your treatment options, as well as your long-term prognosis, are determined by the type of cancer you have.

Learn more about types of breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare kind of breast cancer that can be fatal. IBC accounts for only 1 to 5% of all breast cancer incidences, according to Trusted Source.

Cells in this disease clog the lymph nodes near the breasts, preventing the lymph veins in the breast from draining normally. IBC, rather than causing a tumour, causes your breast to enlarge, get red, and feel extremely heated. A malignant breast might look pitted and thick, similar to an orange peel.

IBC is an extremely aggressive disease that may spread swiftly. As a result, if you observe any symptoms, you should contact your doctor straight soon.

Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer is a term used to describe stage 4 breast cancer. Breast cancer has progressed from the breast to other regions of the body, such as the bones, lungs, or liver. Breast cancer has progressed to this stage. Your oncologist (cancer doctor) will devise a treatment plan with the objective of halting tumour development and spread (s).

Triple-negative breast cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, triple-negative breast cancer is an uncommon illness that affects only around 10% to 15% of patients with breast cancer (ACS). A tumour must exhibit all three of the following features to be classified as triple-negative breast cancer:

  • It is lacking oestrogen receptors. These are cell receptors that bind to, or connect to, the hormone oestrogen. If a tumour possesses oestrogen receptors, oestrogen can encourage tumour growth.
  • It is lacking progesterone receptors. These are cells that bind to the progesterone hormone. Progesterone can encourage the growth of a tumour if it possesses progesterone receptors.
  • Its surface is devoid of any additional HER2 proteins. HER2 is a protein that increases breast cancer development.

If a tumour fits all three of these characteristics, it is classified as triple-negative breast cancer. This kind of breast cancer grows and spreads faster than other types of breast cancer. Because hormone treatment for breast cancer is ineffective, triple-negative breast cancers are difficult to treat.

Stages of breast cancer

Breast cancer is classified into phases based on the size of the tumour (s) and the extent to which it has spread.

Stages of breast cancer
Stages of breast cancer

Cancers that are big and/or have spread to neighbouring tissues or organs are in a more advanced stage than cancers that are tiny and/or are still confined to the breast. Doctors need to know the following information to stage breast cancer:

  • if the cancer is invasive or noninvasive
  • how large the tumour is
  • whether the lymph nodes are involved
  • if cancer has spread to nearby tissue or organs

Breast cancer is classified into five stages: 0 to 5.

Stage 0 breast cancer

DCIS is the first stage. DCIS cancer cells are restricted to the ducts of the breast and have not migrated to adjacent tissue.

Stage 1 breast cancer

Stage 1A: The main tumour is little more than 2 centimetres (cm) broad, and the lymph nodes are unaffected.

Stage 1B: Cancer is identified in adjacent lymph nodes, and the tumour in the breast is either non-existent or less than 2 cm in size.

Stage 2 breast cancer

Stage 2A: The tumour is less than 2 cm in diameter and has spread to 1–3 adjacent lymph nodes, or it is between 2 and 5 cm in diameter but has not migrated to any lymph nodes.

Stage 2B: The tumour is between 2 and 5 cm in diameter and has spread to 1–3 axillary (armpit) lymph nodes, or it is greater than 5 cm in diameter and has not migrated to any lymph nodes.

Stage 3 breast cancer

Stage 3A: The disease has progressed to 4–9 axillary lymph nodes or has enlargement of the internal mammary lymph nodes, and the initial tumour might be any size.

Tumours are more than 5 cm in diameter, and the malignancy has progressed to one to three axillary lymph nodes or any breastbone nodes.

Stage 3B: A tumour has infiltrated the chest wall or skin and may or may not have infected up to nine lymph nodes at this stage.

Stage 3C: Cancer has been discovered in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes around the collarbone, or internal lymph nodes.

Stage 4 breast cancer

Stage 4 breast cancer can be any size tumour, and cancer cells have migrated to local and distant lymph nodes, as well as distant organs.

Your doctor’s testing will establish the stage of your breast cancer, which will influence your therapy.

Male breast cancer

Men have breast tissue exactly like women, albeit they have less of it. Men can get breast cancer, but it’s considerably less common.

Breast cancer is 100 times less likely in white males than in white women, according to the ACSTrusted Source. It affects black men 70 times less than black women. Having said that, breast cancer in men is equally as severe as breast cancer in women. It exhibits the same symptoms.

The survival rate for breast cancer

Breast cancer survival rates vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. The type of cancer you have and the stage of the illness at the time of diagnosis are two of the most crucial considerations. Your age, gender, and race are all characteristics that may come into play. According to research, non-white persons with breast cancer had a greater death rate than white people. Healthcare inequities might be one cause for this.

The good news is that survival rates for breast cancer are improving. According to the ACSTrusted Source, the 5-year survival rate for women with breast cancer was 75.2 per cent in 1975. However, it was 90.6 per cent for women diagnosed between 2008 and 2014. Breast cancer five-year survival rates vary depending on the stage of diagnosis, ranging from 99 per cent for localised, early-stage tumours to 27 per cent for late, metastatic malignancies.

Breast cancer diagnosis

In addition to a breast exam, your doctor will perform a full physical exam to establish if your symptoms are caused by breast cancer or a benign breast ailment. They may also order one or more diagnostic tests to determine the source of your symptoms.

The following tests can aid in the diagnosis of breast cancer:

Mammogram. Mammography is the most frequent imaging test used to examine under the surface of your breast. Many women in their forties and fifties have yearly mammograms to screen for breast cancer. If your doctor feels you have a tumour or a worrisome area on your breast, she will order mammography. If your mammography reveals an abnormal spot, your doctor may order further testing.
Ultrasound. A breast ultrasound creates an image of the tissues deep within your breast using sound waves. An ultrasound can assist your doctor in determining the difference between a solid mass, such as a tumour, and a benign cyst.

Treatment for breast cancer

The stage of your breast cancer, the extent to which it has spread (if it has), and the size of the tumour all play a role in deciding the type of therapy you will require.

To begin, your doctor will assess the size, stage, and grade of your cancer (how likely it is to grow and spread). Following that, you may talk about your therapy choices. The most frequent therapy for breast cancer is surgery. Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation, and hormone therapy are all options for many patients.


Breast cancer can be removed using a variety of surgical procedures, including:

Lumpectomy. The tumour and some surrounding tissue are removed during this treatment, leaving the remainder of the breast intact.
Mastectomy. A surgeon removes a whole breast during this operation. Both breasts are removed during a double mastectomy.
Biopsy of a sentinel node. This procedure involves the removal of a few lymph nodes that receive drainage from the tumour. The lymph nodes will be examined. You may not require another surgery to remove more lymph nodes if they do not have malignancy.
Dissection of axillary lymph nodes. If cancer cells are found in lymph nodes removed during a sentinel node biopsy, your doctor may remove additional lymph nodes.
Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Even if breast cancer is only found in one breast, some women choose to have a contralateral preventive mastectomy. This procedure eliminates your healthy breast in order to lower your chances of acquiring breast cancer again.

Radiation therapy

High-powered radiation beams are used in radiation treatment to target and kill cancer cells. External beam radiation is used in the majority of radiation treatments. A huge machine on the exterior of the body is used in this approach.

Tumours therapy advances have also enabled doctors to irradiate cancer from within the body. Brachytherapy is a form of radiation treatment. Surgeons use brachytherapy to treat cancer by implanting radioactive seeds, or pellets, near the tumour site. The seeds stay for a brief time and do their purpose.



Chemotherapy is a medicinal treatment that is used to kill cancer cells. Some patients may get chemotherapy on its own, but it is frequently used in conjunction with other therapies, including surgery. In certain circumstances, doctors choose to provide chemotherapy to patients prior to surgery. The therapy is intended to reduce the tumour so that the operation will be less intrusive. Chemotherapy includes a lot of unfavourable side effects, so talk to your doctor about them before you start.

Hormone therapy

If your breast cancer is hormone-sensitive, your doctor may put you on hormone therapy. Two female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, can increase the formation of breast cancer tumours.

Hormone treatment works by either preventing your body from producing these hormones or by inhibiting the hormone receptors on cancer cells. This approach may help to delay or perhaps halt the progression of your cancer.


Particular defects or mutations inside cancer cells are targeted by specific therapies. Herceptin (trastuzumab), for example, can prevent your body from producing the HER2 protein. Because HER2 promotes the development of breast cancer cells, taking medicine that inhibits the synthesis of this protein may help halt cancer growth.

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