Breast cancer is the second-largest cause of cancer-related death in women. Each year, over 287,850 breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women in the United States, and more than 43,250 women die from the disease. Breast cancer can occur at any age, but it is most common in women over 50.
The exact cause of breast cancer is not known, but there are many factors that may increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease. Some of the most common risk factors include:
• Age – the risk of breast cancer increases as a woman gets older
• Hereditary factors – women who have a family history of breast cancer are at increased risk
• Sex – women are at higher risk of breast cancer than men
• Race – white women are more likely to develop breast cancer than black women, but black women are more likely to die from the disease
• Radiation exposure – women who have been exposed to radiation (e.g. through medical treatments or x-rays) are at increased risk
• Obesity – obese women are at increased risk of breast cancer
• Alcohol consumption – heavy drinkers are at increased risk of breast cancer
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Exercising regularly
• Breastfeeding – breastfeeding for at least one year can decrease a woman’s risk of breast cancer
• Avoiding alcohol consumption
• Limiting exposure to radiation
It is important to remember that not all women who develop breast cancer have any of these risk factors. And, even if a woman does have one or more risk factors, there is no guarantee that she will develop breast cancer.
The good news is that breast cancer can often be treated successfully if it is detected early. The most common treatment for breast cancer is surgery to remove the tumor. Additional treatments may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.
It is important for women to get regular mammograms – a screening test for breast cancer – so that any tumor can be detected as early as possible.
• Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – this is a non-invasive form of breast cancer that begins in the milk ducts
• Invasive ductal carcinoma – this is the most common type of breast cancer and begins in the milk ducts but spreads to other parts of the breast
• Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) – this is a non-invasive form of breast cancer that begins in the lobules, or milk-producing glands
• Invasive lobular carcinoma – this is a less common type of breast cancer that begins in the lobules but spreads to other parts of the breast.
• Stage 0 – the cancer is still confined to the milk ducts and has not spread to other parts of the breast
• Stage I – cancer has spread to the surrounding tissue but is still limited to the breast
• Stage II – cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm
• Stage III – cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver
There is also a fifth stage, metastatic breast cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
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Not all tumors will cause symptoms, but some of the most common symptoms of breast cancer include:
• A lump or mass in the breast
• Swelling or enlargement of the breast
• Skin irritation or dimpling of the skin over the breast
• Nipple changes – such as inverted nipples, discharge, or bleeding
• Pain in the breast or chest area
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you must see your doctor immediately. Breast cancer can typically be treated successfully if it is detected early.