Breast Cancer Basics
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant or cancerous cells grow in the breast tissue. Cancer occurs when cells divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. Malignant tumors can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.
When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer develops, the following symptoms may appear:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area or in the neck
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge or tenderness, or the nipple pulled back (inverted) into the breast
- Ridges or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
- A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple looks or feels (for example, warm, swollen, red, or scaly)
It is important to note that these symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious health conditions. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a physician.
The breast is made up of lobes and ducts. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes, which have many smaller sections called lobules. Lobules end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can produce milk. The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are linked by thin tubes called ducts. Each breast also has blood vessels and lymph vessels.
The lymph vessels carry an almost colorless fluid called lymph. Lymph vessels lead to organs called lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They filter substances in lymph and help fight infection and disease. Clusters of lymph nodes are found near the breast in the axilla (under the arm), above the collarbone, and in the chest.
The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which begins in the cells of the ducts. Cancer that begins in the lobes or lobules is called lobular carcinoma and is more often found in both breasts than are other types of breast cancer. An uncommon type of breast cancer in which the breast is warm, red, and swollen is known as Inflammatory breast cancer.
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Although most people think of breast cancer as affecting women, men can develop breast cancer as well, and breast cancer in men can be much more aggressive than in women.
Breast Cancer Tips
Tip of the day: Perhaps the single most important thing every woman can do to prevent death or disfiguration from breast cancer is screening. Screening means looking for cancer before any symptoms are noticed. Three methods exist for screening. The first is a monthly breast self-exam a woman performs on her own breasts. The second is a clinical breast exam, which is performed manually by a doctor as part of a regular physical exam. The third is a mammogram, or an X-ray of the breast. Your doctor will recommend a schedule for all three types of screening. Breast cancers rarely cause symptoms until they are large and have spread beyond the breast. By detecting cancer through screening instead of waiting for symptoms to appear, you will vastly improve your chances for a successful outcome, should cancer be found. All Tips on Breast Cancer