Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control. Benign breast tumors do not have the ability to spread, but malignant tumors can grow into other tissues and spread to other organs throughout the body.
The breasts are collections of lymph vessels, blood vessels, glands, and fatty tissue that cover the chest muscles. The glands within the breast, also called lobes, are made up of lobules that produce milk after a woman gives birth. Milk travels from the glands to the nipple through small tubes called ducts. The breasts enlarge when glands and ducts are full of milk, but the fatty tissue in the breast makes up most of its size and shape. Lymph fluid is drained from the breast into lymph nodes in the armpit, which filter the lymph fluid.
This is the second most common cancer for women in the United States. The cancer can form in any breast tissue, but it is most commonly found in the ducts and the glands. These are some of the more common types.
Women are more at risk for breast cancer because the female body naturally produces more estrogen and progesterone, which can promote cancer growth. Men can develop breast cancer too, but they only make up about 1% of cases. As a woman ages, her risk for this type of cancer also increases. Other risk factors include starting menstruation at a young age, older age for a first pregnancy, being overweight, drinking more than five alcoholic beverages per week, history of radiation to the chest, history of breast cancer, dense breast tissue, and taking estrogen. Family history can be an indication of risk as well, but every situation is unique, so discussing family history is essential. These cancer risk factors necessitate more frequent tests and screenings.
Some tests are performed by primary care providers or OB/GYNs as part of routine screenings, while others are done after receiving abnormal results to learn more. Detecting breast cancer early increases the chance that it is treatable.
Staging is a measurement system based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.
(Tumor – node – metastasis system)
If left untreated, these cells will likely become invasive ductal or lobular carcinoma. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ.
Cancer cells have formed but the tumor is less than 2 cm and has not spread beyond the breast. This is considered “early-stage breast cancer.”
The tumor is either less than 2 cm and has spread to the lymph nodes, the tumor is 2-5 cm, or the tumor is larger than 5 cm and has not spread. This is considered “early-stage breast cancer.”
The tumor is larger than 5 cm and has spread to the lymph nodes, the cancer is extensive in the lymph nodes, or the cancer has spread to other breast tissues. This is considered “advanced breast cancer.”
Cancer has spread beyond the breast and surrounding tissue to other organs in the body. This is considered “advanced breast cancer.”
The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.
There are numerous treatment options that vary based on the extent of the disease. Some treatments are completed in our office, while others would be coordinated and performed by partner members of the patient care team outside of our office.