|Photo Courtesy of National Cancer Institute
Breast cancer is a cancer that forms within tissues of the breast. The most frequent
area of formation is usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that produce milk). Breast
cancer occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.
When breast cancer cells spread,
the cancer cells are often found in lymph nodes around the breast. Breast cancer can also spread to almost any other part
of the body. The most common areas for the cancer to spread are; the bones, liver, lungs, and brain. New tumors have the same
type of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer
cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer and not bone cancer. For that
reason, the cancer is treated as breast cancer and not bone cancer. Physicians call the new tumor “distant” or
It has never been determined, the exact causes of breast cancer. Physicians frequently cannot explain why one
woman may develop breast cancer and another woman does not. Researchers however do know that bumping, bruising, or touching
the breast will not cause breast cancer.
Risk Factors (Continued)
Breast cancer is not contagious and cannot be “caught”
from another person. Research studies have shown that women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop
breast cancer. A risk factor is a factor that may increase the chance of developing a disease.
studies have found the following risk factors for breast cancer:
- Age:The odds
of developing breast cancer increase as a woman gets older. The majority breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of
60. Breast cancer is not common before female menopause.
Personal History of
Breast Cancer: A woman who has developed breast cancer in one of her breast is at an increased risk of developing
cancer in her other breast.
Personal Family History: A woman’s
risk of breast cancer is higher if her mother, sister, or daughter had developed breast cancer. The risk is higher if her
personal family member developed breast cancer before the age of 40. Having other relatives with breast cancer (within her
mother’s or father’s family) may also increase a woman’s risk.
Breast Changes: Some women have cells in the breast that look abnormal under a microscope. Having certain types of
abnormal cells (atypical hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ [LCIS]) increases the risk of breast cancer.
Gene Changes: Changes in specific genes increase the risk of breast cancer.
The genes include BRCA1, BRCA2, and others. Tests can sometimes indicate the presence of specific gene changes in families
with many women who have had breast cancer. Health care providers may recommend ways to try to reduce the risk of breast cancer,
or to improve the detection of breast cancer in women who have these changes in their genes. NCI offers publications on gene
Reproductive And Menstrual History:
The older a woman is when she has her first child, increases the chances of her developing breast cancer.
Women who had their first menstrual period before age 12 increases the risk of breast cancer.
Women who experience menopause after age 55 are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
Women who never had children are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
who take menopausal hormone therapy with estrogen plus progestin post menopause also appear to have an increased risk of breast
Large, well-designed studies have shown no correlation between abortion or miscarriage
and breast cancer.
Race: Breast cancer is diagnosed more frequently
in white women than Latina, Asian, or African American women.
Radiation Therapy To
The Chest: Women who had radiation therapy to the chest (including breasts) before age 30 are at an increased risk
of breast cancer which includes women treated with radiation for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Studies show that the younger a
woman was when she received radiation treatment, the higher her risk of breast cancer later in life.
Density: Breast tissue may be dense or fatty. Older women whose mammograms (breast x-rays) show more dense breast
tissue are at increased risk of breast cancer. Taking DES (diethylstilbestrol): DES was given to some pregnant women in the
United States between about 1940 and 1971. (It is not prescribed to pregnant women.) Women who took DES during their pregnancy
may have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. The possible effects upon their daughters are under study.
Being overweight or obese after menopause: The chance of getting breast cancer after menopause
increases in women who are overweight or obese.
Lack of physical activity:
Women who are physically inactive throughout their life may have an increased risk of breast cancer. Being active may help
reduce the risk of breast cancer by preventing weight gain and obesity.
alcohol: Studies suggest that the more alcohol a woman consumes, the greater her risk of breast cancer.
Other possible risk factors are currently under study. Researchers are studying the effect of diet, physical
activity, and genetics on breast cancer risk. They are also studying whether specific substances in the environment can increase
the risk of breast cancer.
Many risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as family history, cannot be
avoided. Women can help protect themselves avoiding risk factors whenever possible.
It is also important
to keep in mind that the majority of women who have known risk factors do not get breast cancer. Also, the majority of women
who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. In fact, except for growing older, most women with
breast cancer have no clear risk factors.
If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss the risks
with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk and can plan a schedule for checkups.
Common symptoms and signs of breast cancer include:
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. Still, a woman should see her health care provider about breast
pain or any other symptom that does not go away. Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems may
also cause them. Any woman with these symptoms should tell her doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early