Breast Cancer Overview
The first sign of breast cancer often is a breast lump or an abnormal mammogram. Breast cancer stages range from early, curable breast cancer to metastatic breast cancer, with a variety of breast cancer treatments. Male breast cancer is not uncommon and must be taken seriously.
Definition of breast cancer: Cancer that forms in tissues of the breast. The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which begins in the lining of the milk ducts (thin tubes that carry milk from the lobules of the breast to the nipple). Another type of breast cancer is lobular carcinoma, which begins in the lobules (milk glands) of the breast. Invasive breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread from where it began in the breast ducts or lobules to surrounding normal tissue. Breast cancer occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.
Breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lives. Breast cancer kills more women in the United States than any cancer except lung cancer. No one knows why some women get breast cancer, but there are a number of risk factors. Risks that you cannot change include
- Age - the chance of getting breast cancer rises as a woman gets older
- Genes - there are two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that greatly increase the risk. Women who have family members with breast or ovarian cancer may wish to be tested.
- Personal factors - beginning periods before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55
Other risks include being overweight, using hormone replacement therapy (also called menopausal hormone therapy), taking birth control pills, drinking alcohol, not having children or having your first child after age 35 or having dense breasts.
Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in size or shape of the breast or discharge from a nipple. Breast self-exam and mammography can help find breast cancer early when it is most treatable. Treatment may consist of radiation, lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States.
Breast Cancer in Men
Men possess a small amount of non-functioning breast tissue (breast tissue that cannot produce milk) that is concentrated in the area directly behind the nipple on the chest wall. Like breast cancer in women, cancer of the male breast is the uncontrolled growth with the potential for spread of some of the cells of this breast tissue. These cells become so abnormal in appearance and behavior that they are then called cancer cells.
Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2015, about 2,350 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
Risk factors include:
- Aging Factor: This is the biggest factor. Just as is the case for women, risk increases as age increases. The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is about 68.
- Strong family history of breast cancer or genetic alterations: Family history can increase the risk of breast cancer in men — particularly if other men in the family have had breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure: Having radiation therapy to the chest before age 30, and particularly during adolescence, may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
Things to watch for include:
- Lump, hard knot or thickening in the breast, chest or underarm area (usually painless, but may be tender)
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin of the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple (inverted nipple) or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge (rare)
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider. Early detection and treatment saves lives!