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: Much has been written lately about a breast cancer gene. It's important to understand this concept, and to be aware that the gene itself doesn't cause cancer. Every cell in the human body has DNA, which carries genetic information about how the cell should function, reproduce and die. Genes are small parts of DNA that carries these instruction. Mutations, or slight changes to a gene, can cause a glitch in the cell's instructions. Sometimes, the glitch will prevent a cell from turning off the instruction to reproduce, and this can lead to cancer. Mutations usually occur spontaneously in DNA over the course of a lifetime, but some are inherited. Scientists have identified BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 (breast cancer genes 1 and 2) which commonly carry cancer-causing mutations. These gene mutations can be passed down from one genration to the next, which is why your risk is higher if there's a family history of breast cancer. Everybody has these genes, and they don't cause cancer in and of themselves. Mutations in the genes, which are inherited, may cause cancer. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer you may consider being tested for mutations in these genes. All Tips on Breast Cancer