According to the World Health Organization 2018, Breast Cancer is the leading form of cancer worldwide along with Lung Cancer (2.09 million cases globally).
Breast cancer begins in mammary cells (breast tissue cells) and depending on the type of tumour, stage at diagnosis and aggressive nature of the tumour, the cancer can metastasize (or spread) to other parts of the body as well.
The most common types of breast cancer include invasive ductal carcinoma (beginning in the ductal cells of the breast) and lobular carcinoma (beginning in groups of glands called lobules).
Less common types of breast cancer include triple negative breast cancer (estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and Her2 receptor negative) and inflammatory breast cancer, which are more highly aggressive forms of breast cancer.
Breast cancer cells positive for progesterone and estrogen receptors tend to have better outcomes, because they can respond to hormonal therapy in addition to chemotherapy, radiation and other conventional medical treatments.
Some risk factors for breast cancer include:
Genetics i.e. Family history - BRCA gene mutations present
History of oral contraceptive pill use
Prior diagnosis of a hormonal imbalance (i.e. fibrocystic breast disease, etc.) or prior diagnosis of another female reproductive cancer (cervical, uterine, ovarian)
Some forms of breast cancer are more common in younger women and therefore, screening in younger individuals with a family history of any female reproductive cancer is important.
When monitoring breast health, ask your doctor for what to look for to ensure you are catching signs & symptoms early. Here are a few signs to keep an eye out for:
A lump or thickening in the breast that does not change with your period/cycle
Axillary (armpit) lymph node swelling or lump
If the nipple begins to retract inwards
If the breast changes in shape from before, or in comparison to the other breast
Bloody discharge from the nipple
Dimpling or other changes in the skin around the breast
Speak to your doctor for more information regarding your health history and bring up any changes with them that you may notice.
General screening for breast cancer is typically conducted with a mammogram every 2 years after the age of 50 until 74 years of age. However, if you have a strong family history or other factors that might increase your risk, your medical doctor may advise you to begin screening at an earlier age. See the “Alberta Breast Cancer Screening Program” link below, for more information.
Please note that breast cancer itself can only be DEFINITIVELY DIAGNOSED WITH A BIOPSY. Imaging of the breast may guide the clinician to recommend a referral to a specialist who would ultimately perform a biopsy. If you see your doctor with a breast-related concern, they may run a mammogram and/or ultrasound to confirm any findings on physical examination. They may also run blood work as well, while waiting for breast imaging to take place.
After a finding on imaging is considered suspect for malignancy (cancer), your doctor will refer you a specialist in cancer, called an oncologist, to continue care.
Treatments for breast cancer can include:
Hormonal therapy (for hormone positive breast cancer, to help block proliferation of breast cells)
Other targeted therapies may also be considered
In honour of October being Canadian Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I hope that this article provided you with information to educate you are Breast Cancer Awareness. Please note that the above is just a summary and DOES NOT substitute appropriate medical advice. Please ensure to see your medical doctor for potential diagnosis.
The above information was obtained from the references below. Please click for more information:
Alberta Breast Screening Program. Alberta Health Services. 2019. https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/findhealth/service.aspx?id=1024851
Breast Cancer. Canadian Cancer Society. 2019. https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/breast/breast-cancer/?region=ab
Breast Cancer. World Health Organization. 2019. https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/diagnosis-screening/breast-cancer/en/