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Breast Cancer – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Friday, June 29th 2012. | Cancer

What is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the number of cases is steadily increasing. Each year more than 700,000 women die worldwide and an estimated 8-9% of women suffer from this type of cancer. The rate of breast cancer is highest among women aged 40-50 years and 60-70 years.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor of the breast. In 80% of cases, it is ductal carcinoma (see Causes). The survival rate at five years of breast cancer varies in different countries: it ranges from 80% in the U.S. to less than 50% in some countries of Eastern Europe. These differences are explained by differences in the diagnostic management and therapy.

Men are rarely affected by this cancer.

Causes of Breast Cancer

The mammary gland is composed of women of glandular tissue, adipose tissue and connective tissue. The lobes of the mammary gland produces milk and result in small channels. This network of canals leading to the nipple.

breast cancer

There are three types of breast cancer :

  • Ductal carcinoma (80% of breast cancers, originates in the inner cell layer of the milk ducts).
  • Lobular carcinoma (originates in glandular lobes)
  • Other rare forms of breast cancer

Specific causes of occurrence of breast cancer are still unknown to date.

In humans, alterations of certain genes seem to play a role.

Risk factors and conditions:

  • Sex, age
  • Pre dispostion family in relatives of first and second degree relative (mother and sister).
  • A unilateral breast cancer increases the risk of further infringement of the second breast.
  • Early menarche or late menopause
  • Late first pregnancy
  • Women who had not had children
  • Prolonged breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer
  • The formations of nodules or cysts increase risk of breast cancer
  • According to recent studies: hormone replacement therapy during menopause
  • Significant overweight
  • Type II diabetes
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Mutations in certain genes (very rare)

Disorders (symptoms)

In most cases (70%), it is possible to feel a hard, painless lump in the breast or armpit.

Other symptoms :

  • Unilateral flow of blood from the nipple
  • Nipple retraction
  • Recent change in breast size
  • Redness or inflammation of the nipple out of breastfeeding
  • Increased volume of lymph glands armpit

Examinations (diagnosis)

  • Personal history with consideration of patient symptoms, family history, medical history, drug history including hormonal treatments. Linking the nodule with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or injury / trauma
  • Physical exam: clinical breast examination and visual examination
  • Gynecological examination
  • Neurological examination (search for sensory disturbances)
  • Mammography
  • Ultrasound
  • Biopsy (tissue sample)

After confirmation of the diagnosis, the following tests are performed to exclude metastases:

  • CXR.
  • Bone scan
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Laboratory Testing: hormone levels, tumor markers.

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the size of the tumor, possible metastases (lymphatic ganglia level, armpit or other organs) and stage of disease. Combination therapy is often required: before or after surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be indicated.

Surgical Treatment

In case of breast cancer, the total resection of the tumor should be considered. Even if removal of the entire breast is not always necessary, the adjacent healthy tissue is removed with the tumor, however. Often, it is also resected nearby lymph nodes (underarm). The decision rests with the attending physician and / or surgeon.


Different solutions are possible :

  • Chemotherapy: cystostatiques (destroy tumor cells or inhibit their growth)
  • Hormone therapy: the growth of some tumors is dependent on hormones, hormone therapy can therefore influence the growth of tumors.
  • Immunotherapy (cytokines such as interferon or interleukin, which are involved in the immune system)


Radiation therapy is considered the third treatment modality in cancer treatment. Its action is local, unlike chemotherapy which acts throughout the body. Combination therapy is often adopted, that is to say, chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.


In cancer, the patient may go through a deep psychological crisis. There is therefore no reason to hesitate to undergo psychotherapy.

Possible complications

Normally, most diagnosed early, the better the chances of recovery.

When a tumor has been completely resected with a sufficient safety margin and no metastasis was detected, it is considered that the disease is cured.

The healing of breast cancer depends on stage of disease at diagnosis. The spread of tumor cells in underarm lymph nodes or the bloodstream has a negative impact on prognosis.

Preventive Measures

A self-breast exam as well as regular checkups at the doctor to detect any changes in time. Any change visible or palpable in the breast should be immediate medical attention.

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