Breast Cancer: The Different Types, Symptoms and Treatment

· January 10, 2018
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer found in women. It actually also affects men on a smaller scale, but it is the second leading cause of death in women. 
Breast cancer is a chronic illness that occurs when the mammary cell tissues start to change and grow uncontrollably.
These cells continue forming a conglomerate of cells known as a tumor, which can be benign or malignant depending on the way it develops.
If the cells continue growing and are able to spread to other parts of the body, it’s a malignant tumor.

Types of breast cancer

Breast cancer can develop through an invasive or non-invasive form. If the cancer is invasive, it spreads to the adjacent tissue while the non-invasive form of cancer only develops in the milk ducts and lobules.

Knowing that the breast zone is where the tumors form, we can distinguish the following types of breast cancer:

Ductal carcinoma

Breast cancer

Ductal carcinoma is the most frequent type of breast cancer.

It starts in the cells that cover the insides of the milk ducts. If it only develops in the duct, it’s ductal carinoma in situ (DCIS). On the other hand, if the cancer spreads outside of the duct, it’s called invasive ductal carcinoma.

Lobular carcinoma

Lobular carcinoma is a type of cancer that develops in the mammary lobules. 

Other types

In some cases, though they are infrequent in comparison to ductal and lobular carcinoma, breast cancers can also be: medullary, mucinous, tubular, metaplastic or papillary breast cancer.

Causes of breast cancer

Causes of breast cancer

Typically, a high number of breast cancer cases are a result of gene mutations that happen after birth. Hereditary factors are less frequent, but they can occur when genetic changes are passed down in a family from one generation to the next.

Aside from family history, it’s important to highlight that the risk of getting breast cancer increases after reaching the age of 50. This is especially true if there’s a family history of ovarian cancer or late menopause.

Other risk factors are:


  • Obesity
  • Alcoholism
  • Exposure to a ionizing radiation
  • Undergoing hormonal replacement therapy
  • Early onset of menstruation.

Breast cancer symptoms

In the majority of cases, breast cancer doesn’t show obvious symptoms in its initial stages.

In light of this, it’s crucial to regularly check your breasts at home (self-check) as well as with a healthcare professional. As the cancer develops further, symptoms can include:

  • Hard, painless lump in armpit zone, with a jagged outline.
  • Changes in the shape, form or texture of the breasts or nipple.
  • Formation of a palpable lump or nodule, normally painless.
  • Foul-smelling liquid emitting from the nipple that can be bloody, yellow or greenish.

In cases of male breast cancer, the cancer can cause pain and sensitivity in the breasts in addition to lump formations.

The symptoms of an advanced cancer include:

  • Skin ulcers,
  • Bone pain,
  • Breast pain,
  • Weakness and tiredness,
  • Significant weight loss,
  • Inflammation of the lymph nodes in the underarm area.

Diagnosis

Breast cancer diagnosis

Diagnosing breast cancer starts with a physical exam. Then, it continues to an examination of both breasts, the underarm area, the neck and the thorax.

Women should perform a breast exam at home every month in order to detect any possible anomalies.

If there are any reasons to suspect the illness or if the patient shows important risk factors, a medical specialist can preform a series of tests that help confirm the cancer.

Among these are:

  • Mammography: For detecting suspicious zones in the breast by using X-rays.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses a electromagnetic field in order to obtain images that aims to accurately identify tumors or study abnormal changes in the mammogram.
  • Breast ultrasound: Carried out with mammograms and they help determine if tumors are liquid or solid.
  • Breast biopsy: Using methods like a needle, image-guided biopsy, stereotactic or open biopsy.
  • Computerized tomography: Determines if the cancer has spread outside of the mammary tissue.
  • Biopsy of the sentinel lymph node: Aims to identify if the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes.

Treatment

The treatment for breast cancer takes several factors into consideration, such as: the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, the sensitivity to certain hormones and if the cancer produces an excess of a protein called HER2/neu.

Several of the most important treatments are:

  • Chemotherapy: A method which utilizes medication to destroy cancerous cells.
  • Radiotherapy. Aims to destroy cancerous tissue.
  • Surgery to remove cancerous tissue: If the breast lump is removed, it’s known as a lumpectomy. Meanwhile, a mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast and possibly neighboring zones, as well.
  • Targeted therapy: Hormonal treatment is an example of such therapy. It’s used to block certain hormones that stimulate the growth of malignant cells. It uses medication to attack the gene changes in cancerous cells.

After receiving the treatment best suited for their cases, some women continue on medication for some period of time. No matter what, all patients should follow medical guidelines for undergoing the relevant tests for monitoring cancer relapse or growth of a different kind of breast cancer.

References

“Cáncer de mama” (2009) MedlinePlus Enciclopedia médica en español.

Información general sobre el cáncer del seno (mama)” (2010) Instituto Nacional del Cáncer.

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