Breast cancer, which develops in the breast tissue, is the most common form of cancer among women in the United States and worldwide. Approximately one in eight women, or 12.4%, will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Although far less common than in women, breast cancer occurs in men too.
How Common is Breast Cancer?
Only skin cancer surpasses breast cancer in the United States among women, accounting for about 30% of all new female cancers annually. For 2023, the American Cancer Society estimates:
- 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women
- 55,720 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- About 43,700 women will die from breast cancer
- About 13% of women will develop breast cancer some time during their lives.
Breastcancer.org estimates that approximately 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men. Male lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833.
Breast cancer occurs primarily in middle-aged and older women. The median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis is 62. This means half of the women who developed breast cancer are 62 years old or younger when diagnosed. A tiny number of women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 45.
The incidence of breast cancer has dropped dramatically since 2000. One theory is that this decline is due to the reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) made from horse urine after the publication of the Women’s Health Initiative Study, which suggested a connection between the synthetic hormones and breast cancer. Death rates started declining in about 1990, partly due to increased awareness, better screening, early detection, and continually improving breast cancer treatment options.
Women under 50 have experienced the most significant decrease. Breast cancer death rates are second to lung cancer among American women.
Breast Cancer Signs, Symptoms and Diagnosis
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump in the breast or armpit
- Pain in the armpits or breast that does not change with your monthly cycle
- Bloody nipple discharge
- Inverted nipple
- Orange-peel texture or dimpling of breast skin
- Breast pain or sore nipple
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
- A change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple
- Peeling, flaking or scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple
Not all breast lumps are cancerous. However, if you notice a lump or thickening, you should visit VIVVA for a thorough examination.
Breast cancer is diagnosed during a physical exam, through self-examination of the breast, mammography, ultrasound testing and biopsy.
Patients whose disease may have spread may also experience bone pain, shortness of breath or yellow skin.
Breast Cancer Causes
Cancer occurs when some cells in the breast begin to grow abnormally. Breast cancer cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and continue to accumulate, forming more quickly than healthy cells to form a lump or a mass. Cells may spread through the breast to lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
Breast cancer usually begins with cells in the milk ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma). It can also start in the lobules (invasive lobular carcinoma) of glandular tissue or other cells within the breast.
Hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors may increase your risk. However, researchers are unsure why some people with no risk factors develop breast cancer, yet others with risk factors never do. It's theorized that a complex interaction of your genetic makeup and your environment cause breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Breast cancer usually starts in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules and then spreads to other breast tissue. It can eventually invade the lymph nodes and other areas of the body. The exact causes are often unclear. However, the following risk factors can make a woman more likely to contract the disease.
- Age—the risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. When you are 20, the risk is 0.36%, but by the time you reach age 70, that risk is 3.84%.
- Genetics—if you have a relative with breast cancer, your chance also increases. Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes also have a higher chance of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or both. Genetic testing can determine if you have inherited these genes from your parents.
- A history of breast cancer or lumps—Once you have had breast cancer, it is likely to recur. Some noncancerous lumps, including atypical ductal hyperplasia, also increase your chances.
- Women with dense breast tissue are more likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Extended estrogen exposure appears to increase the risk of breast cancer, while breastfeeding appears to reduce it.
- Weight gain after menopause increases your chances. High sugar intake may also play a role.
- High alcohol consumption also plays a role in breast cancer development, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
- Radiation treatments for different cancers may increase your risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
- Hormone treatments-oral contraceptives may slightly increase your risk of breast cancer, according to the NCI. Studies have also indicated that estrogen-progesterone therapy is related to a high risk of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments
Treatment options depend on a variety of factors, including the size and stage of the tumor, your age and overall health, sensitivity to hormones and your personal preference.
Local treatments target the tumor without affecting the rest of the body. These include procedures such as mastectomy, which removes the entire breast or breast-conserving surgeries such as lumpectomy, which removes only the tumor and some surrounding breast tissue and lymph nodes. Radiation therapy is a highly targeted and effective way to target cancer cells that may linger following surgery.
Systemic treatments involve drugs that can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. They can be administered by mouth or placed directly into the bloodstream.
The type of breast cancer also determines what treatments may be used, including chemotherapy, hormone-blocking therapy and targeted therapy, such as antibodies that work on specific cancer cells and are less likely to harm surrounding tissue.
Early detection and prompt treatment is the key to successful outcomes for breast cancer. We encourage you to schedule an annual physical exam with one of the doctors at VIVAA to discuss your risks and possible screening for breast cancer.
Early detection and prompt treatment is the key to successful outcomes for breast cancer. We encourage you to schedule an annual physical exam with one of the doctors at VIVAA, to discuss your risks and possible screening for breast cancer.
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