Breast cancer refers to the group of cancers that originate in breast tissue. In some cases, this cancer can spread (metastasize) beyond its original location in the breast and affect other areas of the body.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer develops when one cell with abnormal DNA doesn’t follow the typical cycle of cell life and death, but instead lives indefinitely, creating more cells with similarly damaged DNA. The result is a mass of cells that can form a cancerous (malignant) tumor, although not all breast growths are malignant.
While the causes of abnormal cell behavior are not fully understood, researchers have identified several risk factors that may increase your chances of developing breast cancer. They include:
- Drinking alcohol in excess
- Being overweight or obese
- Having children after age 30 or not having children
- Taking oral contraceptives or other birth control methods that use hormones
- Being older than 55
- Being female (although uncommon, men can also develop breast cancer)
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Inheriting certain gene changes, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
Breast Cancer Symptoms
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a hard lump that is painless and feels anchored into the breast tissue, although a cancerous tumor may also be painful or feel rubbery.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump in the underarm
- Skin on the breast or nipple that is inflamed, itchy, flaky or dimpled
- A thickened area of breast tissue
- Nipple discharge that is not breast milk
- Changes in the appearance of the nipple, including nipple inversion
- Sudden breast asymmetry
- Unusual breast pain
It’s important to promptly speak with a medical professional if you notice any changes in the look or feel of one or both breasts, even if they are not listed above.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Diagnostic testing is necessary to confirm whether a breast lump is malignant or benign. There are several types of tests that can be used to diagnose or rule out breast cancer, including:
- A diagnostic mammogram
- A breast ultrasound
- A biopsy of the breast lump
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Treatment for Breast Cancer
Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute provides a full spectrum of treatment options to patients with breast cancer. Many treatment plans include a combination of surgery to remove cancerous tissues, as well as chemotherapy or radiation therapy to attack remaining cancer cells. Newer approaches, including biological therapies that utilize the body’s immune system, are also effective for some patients with breast cancer.