Types and Symptoms of Breast Cancer and Treatments

22 January, 2021
Breast cancer doesn't just affect women. It actually also affects men. Below, we'll tell you more about it.
Treatments of breast cancer can be tricky as it’s a chronic illness that occurs when the mammary cell tissues start to change and grow uncontrollably. This is because 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

A diagram of a tumor in a woman's breast.
Breast cancer is a disease that affects both genders.

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

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 carcinoma in situ (DCIS). On the other hand, if cancer spreads outside of the duct, it’s called invasive ductal carcinoma.

Read more Nine Symptoms of Breast Cancer All Women Should Know

Lobular carcinoma

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

As with other types of cancer, the causes come from the hand of mutations produced in certain hereditary factors essential for the proper functioning of the cell cycle: oncogenes and protooncogenes.

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

Other risk factors according to breastcancer.org are:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Physical inactivity
  • Undergoing hormonal replacement therapy
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation before 30
  • 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 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, cancer can cause pain and sensitivity in the breasts in addition to lump formations.

The symptoms of 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

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.

A doctor looking at an x-ray.

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

  • Mammography: For detecting suspicious zones in the breast by using X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses an electromagnetic field in order to obtain images that aim 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 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

The experts of Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC) clarify that in the case of men the diagnosis is made in the same way as for women. This is an important point to take into account.

Find out more about Screening Tests for Breast Cancer

Treatments of breast cancer

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

Several of the most important treatments are:

  • Chemotherapy: A method that 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. This is because it’s used to block certain hormones that stimulate the growth of malignant cells. In addition, it uses medication to attack the gene changes in cancerous cells.
A doctor holding some pills which are one of the treatments of breast cancer.
For proper preservation of medicines, it’s important to pay attention to aspects such as temperature and type of drug.

Finally, after receiving the treatment best suited for their cases, some women continue on medication for some period of time. Furthermore, 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.

Note: to learn more about breast cancer treatments, as well as other aspects of the disease, you can access the website of the Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer.