Breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the breast tissue. It is the most common cancer in women in the United States. The normal breast consists of glandular tissue called lobes. These lobes are section off into lobules, which product milk. Milk is carried to from the lobules to the nipple by small ducts. All this tissue is surrounded by fatty and connective tissue as well as blood and lymph vessels.
There are several different types of breast cancer:
- Ductal carcinoma situ – early stage cancer confined to the ducts. This type has a high cure rate.
- Infiltrating lobular carcinoma – a cancer that starts in the lobules of the breast and spreads into surrounding tissues.
- Medullary, mucinous and tubular carcinomas – these are three relatively slower-growing types of breast cancer.
- Inflammatory carcinoma – a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that can be difficult to treat. This cancer invades the lymphatic vessels of the skin and can be very likely to spread to the local lymph nodes.
- Paget’s disease – a very rare cancer of the areola and nipple. Although Paget’s does not arise from glandular tissue in the breast, it can be associated with both in situ and infiltrating breast cancers.
When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer grows, it can cause the following changes:
- One or more lumps in the breast which may or may not be painful
- One or more lumps in lymph nodes near the breast, under your arms or collarbone which may or may not be painful
- Thickening in or around the breast
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge or tenderness, or the nipple 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
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. A combination of therapies is most effective. For example, radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after to make sure all the cancer has been removed. Treatment options include:
- Surgery – remove the tumors and any affected tissue. There are many different kinds of surgery including lumpectomy, mastectomy, lymph node biopsy or dissection and cryotherapy.
- Radiation therapy – the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The main types of radiation include: external therapy, internal therapy and microwave thermotherapy.
- Chemotherapy – use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well.
- Medications – used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Common medications include biologic therapy, targeted therapy and hormone blocking therapy.
Finding breast cancer early and treating it is the best way to prevent death from the disease. Breast cancer does not cause symptoms in early stages. It is important to have screening exams and tests such as mammograms. Talk to you doctor to learn more about breast cancer prevention and treatment options. Need a doctor? Call (316) 962-DOCS to find a doctor who specializes in cancer care.
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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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