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Breast Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Types, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Precautions

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Breast Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Types, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Precautions

7 min read


Breast cancer causes severe problems in female patients. Read this article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Neha Rathod

Published At February 11, 2021
Reviewed AtJuly 17, 2023

What Is Cancer?

Cancer is a condition in which there is an abnormal proliferation of the cells. It has the potential to cause severe destruction to the tissues. Cancer can be benign and malignant. The malignant type of cancer is responsible for life-threatening complications. The benign is usually harmless, and the symptoms can be managed with proper treatment. The biggest problem occurs when benign cancer turns out to be malignant cancer. Cancers can occur at any site and can spread to different parts of the body. Cancer that has increased ability to spread is a blood cancer. The other common types of cancer are lung cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a condition that can affect the breasts of women. Even young girls might be affected. In the United States of America, breast cancer is the common cause of complications of the breast. There is a common misconception that breast cancer can occur only in women. This is not true. In rare instances, the occurrence of breast cancer is noted in males also. Several awareness programs are conducted throughout the world to decrease the number of recorded cases. Due to the self-diagnosis and early diagnosis, a great decline in the rates of breast cancer has been noted.

What Are the Causes of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer can be caused by environmental factors, hormonal disturbances, and changes in lifestyle patterns. Genetic mutations have also been known to be the cause of breast cancer.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

The various signs and symptoms that are associated with breast cancer are:

  • Changes in appearance or shape of the breast.

  • The difference in the size of the breast.

  • Inverted nipple.

  • A lump in the breast that feels very thick and different from the nearby tissues.

  • Redness of the skin on the breast.

  • Crusting and pigmentation of the skin that surrounds the nipple.

What Are the Types of Breast Cancer?

There are different types of breast cancer. They are:

  • Angiosarcoma: It is a type of cancer that is formed on the lining of the blood vessels. The occurrence of angiosarcoma in the breast is very rare. It might occur deeply in the tissues. The site of radiation therapy is the commonest site for angiosarcoma.

  • Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS): It is abnormal cancer that can occur in the ducts of the breast. It is usually categorized as low risk.

  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer: It is an inflammatory condition of the breast where there is obstruction of the lymphatic vessels. It has the ability to spread to all the nearby tissues and lymph nodes.

  • Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: This type of cancer has the ability to spread rapidly and profusely. There are different types of invasive lobular carcinoma. They are:

    • Tubular carcinoma.

    • Papillary carcinoma.

    • Medullary carcinoma.

    • Adenoid cystic carcinoma.

    • Mucinous carcinoma.

  • Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS): This condition is difficult to diagnose because it cannot be identified in a mammogram. In such cases, a biopsy might be required.

  • Male Breast Cancer: It is the rarest of all breast cancer. People who belong to an older age are known to be affected. Earlier diagnosis can help in ideal treatment options.

  • Paget's Disease of the Breast: An underlying condition of the duct can cause Paget's disease. This cancer is known to start in the nipples of the breast.

  • Recurrent Breast Cancer: This breast cancer can recur after cancer has been treated in the site.

What Are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?

The risks associated with breast cancer are:

  • Age: People who are more than 50 years of age are affected more than others.

  • Family History: If the patient is having a person in the family who is already affected by breast cancer, then there is a higher possibility for the person to be affected by breast cancer.

  • Menstrual Abnormalities: If the person attains puberty at a much earlier time or if the individual attains menopause after 55 years of age, then both the conditions are considered an abnormality. This might serve as a predisposing factor for the occurrence of breast cancer.

  • Drug Usage: Usage of drugs like Diethylstilbestrol can increase the risk of breast cancer in women.

  • Consumption of alcohol.

  • Hormonal therapy.

  • Obesity.

  • Excessive exposure to radiation.

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of breast cancer requires the following procedure.

  • Mammogram: Mammogram is a procedure that functions as an X-ray. It is used to screen the abnormalities present in the breast. There are several indications and contraindications associated with mammogram procedure. You have to get recommendations from your doctor before going to this procedure.

  • Examination of the Breast: The doctor will touch and feel the breast to identify the presence of lumps or any other abnormalities present in the breast. The lymph nodes also will be checked by the doctor.

  • Ultrasound of the Breast: Ultrasound is the procedure that uses the help of soundwaves to visualize the deep tissues of the body. Any presence of lumps in the breast or any solid mass can be detected. The cysts that are filled with fluid can also be identified using ultrasound procedures.

  • Biopsy: Biopsy is the most recommended method for making a confirmatory diagnosis for breast cancer. In a biopsy, a specialized needle is used with the guidance of the X-ray. A part of suspected tissue is collected and checked for microscopic examination. The presence of any abnormal cells or rapid proliferation of the cells can be identified with the help of biopsy. The cells also help in grading breast cancer.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: MRI is a procedure that uses high-energy radio waves and a magnet to visualize the deeper tissues of the breast. Before going to the MRI procedure of the breast, specific dyes are injected.

The diagnosis of breast cancer also requires staging of cancer. This will help in formulating a proper treatment plan. To stage breast cancer, the following techniques might be necessary.

What Is Self-Examination for Breast Cancer?

Before going to the doctor for any detection of the cancerous condition in the breast, one can perform a self-examination of the breast. Any positive finding in breast examination can be combined later with the advanced diagnostic procedure in the hospital. Self-examination of the breast is a very useful tool and can be performed a number of times without any expenses. The following steps are to be followed for self-examination of the breast.

  • Remove all your clothing and start looking at your breast in front of the mirror. Make sure your arms, shoulders, and hips are straight. Observe any changes in size, shape, and color. If there is no visible swelling, check for any soreness, rashes, redness, and swelling. The change in position of the nipple should also be noted.

  • You are supposed to raise both your arms and look for the same changes.

  • Check for any fluid secretions from one or both the nipples. These secretions could be yellow fluid, blood, watery, milky secretions.

  • Another method you can do is by lying down flat on a bed or floor. Use your right hand to feel the left breast. You can do a soft compress on the nipple and the breast. Slowly try to cover the entire breast from side to side and top to bottom. You can also move your finger in smaller or larger circles. Look for any lumps or changes in the breast. Perform this same procedure for the right breast using the left hand.

  • It is noted that many women feel comfortable to feel their skin in their breasts when it is slippery and wet. So, you can use the opportunity of taking a bath to identify any lumps. If the person is comfortable to self-examine the breast when they are sitting or standing, they can choose to do so.

What Should You Do When You Find Any Lump?

  • Stay Calm: You have to understand that most women have one or multiple lumps in their breast almost all the time. They are non-cancerous and do not cause any problem. So if you find any lump in your breast, the first thing you have to do is to stay calm. Panicking over the lumps will cause stress and abnormal changes in the hormones. This can invite other health issues.

  • Visit Your Doctor: You should not hesitate to consult your doctor immediately. It is good to know whether the lump in your breast is benign or malignant. If you are in your menstrual cycle, please wait for it to get over. Completion of the menstrual cycle might cause the disappearance of the changes in the breasts in some people. If the changes stay the same even after your menstruation, it is mandatory for you to visit a gynecologist or health care provider.

What Are the Treatment Options for Breast Cancer?

The various treatment option for breast cancer are:

  • Lumpectomy: It is a procedure in which the lumps of the breast are removed by conserving the normal tissues surrounding the lumps. A tiny margin of the surrounding tissues is removed for clinical purposes.

  • Mastectomy: It is a procedure in which the complete tissue of the breast is removed. This is of two types - total mastectomy and simple mastectomy.

  • Sentinel Node Biopsy: In this procedure, the lymph nodes that are affected by cancer are removed.

The other procedures that are recommended for breast cancer are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.

What Are the Precautionary Measures to Be Followed to Prevent Breast Cancer?

Even though women are at high risk for breast cancer, an individual can prevent them by following the below tips:

  • Physical Exercise: Normal physical activity and exercises. It is advised to engage in sports activities or minimal physical work to keep yourself active. Maintaining a healthy BMI will keep you away from various health issues.

  • Balanced Diet: Checking your weight after menopause is very important. If an individual is overweight, it definitely increases the chances for cancer. Therefore, it is good to follow a healthy diet plan. Frequent small meals are also advisable.

  • Avoid Alcohol: A habit of regular drinking can increase your risk of cancer. So, avoiding alcohol, along with smoking, can increase the lifespan of an individual.

  • Avoid Hormonal Replacement Therapy: Hormone replacement therapy focuses on artificially inducing progesterone and estrogen. Usage of contraceptive pills and any other medications for controlling the menstrual cycle can cause severe alterations in hormone levels. Consumption of these medications should be avoided until your doctor recommends you to do so. You can make use of other contraceptive devices like male and female condoms to control birth.

  • General Tips: Women who delay their first child even after the age of thirty suffer a higher risk for breast cancer. Breastfeeding mutual benefits for both the mother and the child. Consider all these factors, and you can plan your living accordingly. Having a full-term pregnancy can also reduce the risk of breast cancer. You can perform exercises to have a healthy full-term vaginal delivery.

For more help, contact icliniq.com.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why Does My Left Breast Ache?

Causes of breast pain may or may not be breast-related and range from less severe to serious causes. It can be due to breast injury, healing breast surgery, clogged milk ducts, infection and abscess under the nipple, mastitis (breast inflammation), oral contraceptive pills, hormonal replacement therapy, thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, altered hormonal levels during menstruation, inflammatory breast cancer, costochondritis, chest wall muscle pain, reflux disease (GERD), hiatal hernia, pneumonia, pulmonary emboli, shingles, heart diseases, and benign or malignant breast tumors.


Why Do I Feel Heaviness in My Breast?

The heaviness of the breasts are due to swelling and lumps of benign cause. Breast heaviness does not usually occur in malignant breast conditions except for inflammatory breast cancer in some instances. Some conditions causing breast heaviness are fibrocystic breast changes due to fluid build-up, cyclic breast changes during menstruation, the breast being prepared for breastfeeding during pregnancy, breastfeeding, hormonal medications, and breast infections.


How Does Breast Cancer Start?

Breast cancer occurs due to mutations in DNA, hereditary transfer of the mutated DNAs, and lifestyle-related risk factors like alcoholism, overweight, lack of physical exercise, not having children, not breastfeeding, hormonal supplements, etc. Due to the mutational changes, normal breast cells transform into cancer cells, and they begin to replicate at a faster rate invading the nearby tissues.


What Are the Symptoms of Stage 1 (Early) Breast Cancer?

A lump that is painless is the most common sign of breast cancer. In some cases, there are tender and swollen armpit and collarbone lymph nodes before a palpable breast mass forms. But during the early stages of cancer, it usually does not exhibit any symptoms as the size of the lump in stages 0 and 1 remain less than or nearly 2 mm or the size of a peanut. Hence regular breast cancer screening tests need to be done.


How Does Breast Cancer Pain Feel Like?

Breast cancer may or may not exhibit pain. Many non-malignant breast conditions also exhibit pain. But in the case of breast cancer, the pain is persistent and chronic. There is a feeling of breast fullness and tenderness. Sometimes the pain can also be present in the armpit lymph nodes.


How Does a Breast Cancer Lump Feel Like?

Lumps appearing in breast cancer are often painless and hard with irregular edges. In some instances, they can be painful too. It does not move while pushing it. Its size increases with time. However, sometimes, it can be soft and round with tenderness.


How Common Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is one of the commonest cancers amongst female-specific cancers. It affects almost all women of all countries with a predisposition to the later stages of a woman’s life, approximately above 40 years. Even if the risk factors are absent, it has tendencies to occur with the female gender as the risk factor.


In Which Part of the Breast Do Cancer Lumps Form?

Breast cancer lumps can occur anywhere within the breast, but they mostly appear in the breast’s upper and lateral or outer side (from below the axilla to the lateral side).


How Many Women Get Breast Cancer?

The United States breast cancer statistics state that 1 in every 8 women will develop breast cancer (invasive type) in their lifetime.


What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Metastatic breast cancer is stage 4 cancer or advanced cancer. The cancer cells have metastasized or spread to other parts of the body from their site of origin. Most commonly, breast cancer metastasis to bones. Other sites of metastasis are lungs, regional lymph nodes, brain, and liver. At this stage, it cannot be cured but can be managed with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.


What Is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

This is an aggressive type of breast cancer due to its higher recurrence rates and faster growth and spread by the time of detection. Upon diagnosing breast cancer, further diagnostic tests yield information about cancer cell features. The cells lack estrogen and progesterone receptors in triple-negative breast cancer and do not make sufficient HER2 protein. These things make it difficult to treat them with hormone therapy and HER2 drugs.


Can You Have Breast Cancer Without Knowing?

Breast cancer presents with certain symptoms like changes in breast morphology, pain, lumps, etc. Also, these symptoms do not present in the earlier stages. And in some cases, cancer keeps developing within the breasts without showing any symptoms for certain periods. In that case, they are known as asymptomatic cancers.


Should I Worry About Breast Pain?

Breast pain can be due to many factors. Some are related to breasts, and some not. It may be due to hormonal imbalances, tight undergarments, injury, infection, chest muscle pain, heart disease, benign and malignant tumors, etc. Persistent breast pain accompanied by palpable breast lump, bloody nipple discharge, inverted nipple, swollen and painful axillary and collarbone lymph nodes, the difference in size, shape, and appearance of the breast, etc., is of concern. These indicate breast cancer.
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Dr. Lochana .k
Dr. Lochana .k



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