• Breast cancer arises from cells in the breast that have grown abnormally and multiplied to form a lump or tumour. • The earliest stage of breast cancer is non-invasive disease (Stage 0), which is contained within the ducts or lobules of the breast and has not spread into the healthy breast tissue (also called in situ carcinoma). Invasive breast cancer has spread beyond the ducts or lobules into healthy breast tissue, or beyond the breast to lymph nodes or distant organs (Stages I IV). • Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women and occurs most frequently in postmenopausal women over the age of 50. Breast cancer also occurs in men but is very rare, making up around 1% of all breast cancer cases.
Diagnosis of breast cancer:
• The most common symptoms of breast cancer are changes in the breasts such as the presence of a lump, changes to the nipple, discharge from the nipple or changes in the skin of the breast. • Initial investigations for breast cancer begin with a physical examination, mammography and ultrasound scan. In some cases, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will also be performed. If a tumour is found, a biopsy will be taken to assess the cancer before any treatment is planned.
Treatment options for breast cancer:
• The treatment of breast cancer depends on how far advanced the cancer is (Stage 0 IV) and what type of cancer is present. • Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy and targeted therapy are used in the treatment of breast cancer. • Breast cancer is ‘staged’ according to tumour size, involvement of lymph nodes and whether it has spread outside the breast and lymph nodes to other parts of the body, according to the TNM system (T – tumour, N – nodes, M – metastases). This information is used to help decide the best treatment. • The presence of biomarkers including hormone receptors and a receptor called HER2 also help to determine what type of therapy is given.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Symptoms of breast cancer include • A lump in the breast • Change in the size or shape of the breast • Dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue • An inverted nipple • Rash on the nipple • Discharge from the nipple • Swelling or a lump in the armpit • Pain or discomfort in the breast that doesn’t go away • Skin redness • Skin thickening
How common is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women, with almost 1.7 million cases diagnosed per year and more than half a million deaths every year. In developed countries, 1 in every 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. In Europe, there is a breast cancer diagnosis every 2 minutes and a death due to breast cancer every 6 minutes. Breast cancer mostly affects older women, with the majority of patients being over the age of 50 when diagnosed, although around 1 in 5 breast cancers are diagnosed before the age of 50. Breast cancer in men is rare and makes up around 1% of breast cancer cases.
Most important risk factors:
• Female gender • Exposure to ionising radiation • Increasing age • Having fewer children • Genetic predisposition (family history • History of atypical hyperplasia • Obesity • Exposure to oestrogens • Alcohol