Breast Cancer – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Cancer is a disease which is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Breast cancer is any type of malignant growth in the breast tissue. Some women who have a personal or family history indicative of a hereditary cancer syndrome who have not tested positive for a BRCA mutation may still have an elevated risk for these cancers. Almost all breast cancers occur in women and it is also found that it is very few occur in men. About 200,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.


It is not known exactly what causes breast cancer, but there are certain risk factors that seem to increase a person’s chance of getting the disease. Radiation is the best-established cause of breast cancer. Both radiation and chemical toxins are implicated, but while some are “initiators” of cancer, and others are “promoters,” radiation is both. That means it facilitates cancer easily. Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have a much higher lifetime risk for breast cancer, and much of the risk occurs at a younger age. Some factors influence risk more than others, and your risk for breast cancer can change over time, due to factors such as aging or lifestyle. Recent studies have shown that about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary as a result of gene changes.


Most breast cancer is discovered before symptoms are present, either by finding an abnormality on mammography or feeling a breast lump. Breast cancers in their early stages usually are painless. Many cancers, however, produce no symptoms and cannot be felt on examination; they can be detected only with the use of a mammogram.

Common symptoms of breast cancer may not appear until the cancer is more advanced. These include:

* A thickening in the breast or armpit.
* A change in the size or shape of the breast.
* Changes in the skin of the breast, such as a dimple or skin that looks like orange peel.
* A change in the nipple, such as scaling of the skin, a nipple that turns in, or discharge or bleeding.
* A change in the color or feel of the skin around the nipple.


Breast cancer treatments are often very effective. However side effects from these treatments can be difficult to deal with; hair loss, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and hot flashes can all disturb a woman’s quality of life. But now there are a variety of treatments that can be offered to offset these problems and try to make the time during treatment as comfortable as possible.

Radiation uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Treatment is delivered by a machine outside the body (called external radiation) or by radioactive “seeds” that are placed directly into the tumor (called brachytherapy).

During a simple mastectomy, your surgeon removes all your breast tissue — the lobules, ducts, fatty tissue and a strip of skin with the nipple and areola.