Breast Cancer


Photograph of woman's breast showing scaly, rough skin, a possible symptom of breast cancer. Signs and symptoms of breast cancer are not always lumps or swelling.

Breast cancer is when cancer develops from breast tissue. Signs of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in breast shape, dimpling of the skin, fluid coming from the nipple, or a red scaly patch of skin. In those with distant spread of the disease, there may be bone pain, swollen lymph nodes, shortness of breath, or yellow skin.

Risk factors for developing breast cancer include obesity, lack of physical exercise, drinking alcohol, hormone replacement therapy during menopause, ionizing radiation, early age at first menstruation, and having children late or not at all. About 5-10% of cases are due to genes inherited from a person's parents, including BRCA1 and BRCA2 among others. Breast cancer most commonly develops in cells from the lining of milk ducts and the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers developing from the ducts are known as ductal carcinomas, while those developing from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas. In addition, there are more than 18 other sub-types of breast cancer. Some cancers develop from pre-invasive lesions such as ductal carcinoma in situ. The diagnosis of breast cancer is confirmed by taking a biopsy of the concerning lump. Once the diagnosis is made, further tests are done to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast and which treatments it may respond to.

The balance of benefits versus harms of breast cancer screening is controversial. A 2013 Cochrane review stated that it is unclear if mammographic screening does more good or harm. A 2009 review for the US Preventive Services Task Force found evidence of benefit in those 40 to 70 years of age, and the organization recommends screening every two years in women 50 to 74 years old. The medications tamoxifen or raloxifene may be used in an effort to prevent breast cancer in those who are at high risk of developing it. Surgical removal of both breasts is another useful preventative measure in some high risk women. In those who have been diagnosed with cancer, a number of treatments may be used, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Types of surgery vary from breast-conserving surgery to mastectomy. Breast reconstruction may take place at the time of surgery or at a later date. In those in whom the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, treatments are mostly aimed at improving quality of life and comfort.

Outcomes for breast cancer vary depending on the cancer type, extent of disease, and person's age. Survival rates in the developed world are high, with between 80% and 90% of those in England and the United States alive for at least 5 years. In developing countries survival rates are poorer. Worldwide, breast cancer is the leading type of cancer in women, accounting for 25% of all cases. In 2012 it resulted in 1.68 million cases and 522,000 deaths. It is more common in developed countries and is more than 100 times more common in women than in men.


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