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Breast Cancer Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatments

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.


October is breast cancer awareness month, which is an international health campaign. Major charities work to increase awareness of this disease and raise research funds.

Breast cancer is the world’s most prevalent cancer as 685,000 died in 2020, and at the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive with this diagnosis in the past 5 years. However, the survival rates have steadily increased and deaths due to breast cancer have declined, due to early detection. Breast cancer can occur in men.

Breast Cancer Facts

Breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells in the breast grow out of control. There are different types of breast cancer. This cancer can begin in different areas of the breast.

The breast is made up of lobules, ducts and connective tissue. The lobules are the milk-producing glands, while the ducts are tubes that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue consists of fibrous and fatty tissue that surrounds the ducts and tubes.

Breast Cancer Types

The most common types of breast cancer include:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: This cancer begins in the ducts, then grows outside the ducts into other areas of the breast tissue. It can spread into other areas (metastasize) of the body.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: This cancer begins in the lobules, then spreads into nearby breast tissue. This cancer can also spread to other body areas.
  • Angiosarcoma: This is a rare type that forms in the lining of the blood vessels and lymph vessels (part of the immune system).
  • Inflammatory breast cancer: This is a rare breast cancer that rapidly develops, and it causes the affected breast to become swollen, red and tender.
  • Paget’s disease of the breast: This is a rare type of breast cancer that begins on the nipple, then extends into the dark circle of skin (areola) around the nipple.
  • Male breast cancer: This is a rare form of cancer in the breast tissue of men, typically older men
  • Recurrent breast cancer: This cancer returns after initial treatment. This occurs when undetected cancer cells multiply. This may occur months or even years following treatment of the original cancer.

Breast cancer can spread through the blood vessels and the lymph vessels.



There are several signs and symptoms of breast cancer, including:

  • Lump in the breast or in your underarm persisting through your menstrual cycle thickening that feels different from other tissue
  • Mass or lump that can be as small as a pea
  • Changes in the shape, size or appearance of the bread
  • A change in the skin over the breast, like dimpling
  • Newly inverted nipple
  • Crusting, peeling, scaling or flaking of the pigmented area of skin around the nipple (areola)
  • Redness or a pitting of breast skin or the nipple
  • A marble-like hardened area under the skin
  • Clear fluid or blood-stained fluid discharge from the nipple

Some people do not notice any signs, which is why the mammogram is so very important.


Your physician will perform a breast exam and ask about your family history, medical history and any symptoms.

Tests that may be ordered include:

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  • Mammograms will detect changes or abnormal growth in the tissue.
  • Ultrasonography uses sound waves to take pictures of breast tissue.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning uses dye to highlight any suspicious areas.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves to get clear, detailed images.

Should your physician see anything suspicious on any imaging test they will take a biopsy of the breast tissue.

Breast Cancer Stages

Several factors help describe any cancer, which is determined by several factors that include size, location of the tumor, which includes the size and location of the tumor and if it has spread to other areas.

The basic breast cancer stages are:

  • Stage 0: This is a non-invasive disease that means that the cancer is still in the breast ducts.
  • Stage I: The cancer cells are in the nearby breast tissue.
  • Stage II: The tumor is either smaller than 2 cm in size and has spread to underarm lymph nodes or it can be larger than 5 cm across but it hasn’t spread.
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread and may have invaded nearby lymph nodes and tissue, but it has not reached distant organs.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread in the body to bones, liver, lungs or the brain. This is also called metastatic breast cancer.

Risk Factors

There are several possible risk factors for this cancer, including:

  • Family history or genetics: If you have siblings, parents or children that were diagnosed with breast cancer your risk is greater as 5% to 10% of breast cancers are due to an abnormal gene passed down, which can be detected through genetic testing.
  • Women who are age 55 and older
  • Smoking: Tobacco has been linked to different cancer types.
  • Alcohol use: Research indicates drinking alcohol can increase your risk for certain types of breast cancer.
  • Obesity can increase your risk.
  • Radiation exposure if you’ve had radiation therapy, especially to your head, neck or chest area.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (combining estrogen and progesterone)
  • Beginning menstrual before age 12
  • Beginning menopause at an older age
  • Having never been pregnant
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified a possible link between breast implants and anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, but it is not common.

Treatments for Breast Cancer

Treatments for breast cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapies.

The surgeries may include:

  • Lumpectomy: partial mastectomy, and it removes the tumor and a small area of healthy tissue nearby
  • Mastectomy: removal of the entire breast, the surgeon can preserve the nipple (areola) as some women may choose immediate or delayed breast reconstruction immediately.
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy may be done with a lumpectomy or a mastectomy to prevent removal of lymph nodes that are not cancerous.
  • Axillary lymph node dissection: done when multiple lymph nodes are cancerous, and this means removal of many lymph nodes under the arm.
  • Modified radical mastectomy: The entire breast is removed in addition to your nipple, along with the lymph nodes under the arm, but the chest muscle is left intact. Breast reconstruction is still an option.
  • Radical mastectomy: This procedure is rarely performed today unless the breast cancer has spread to your chest wall muscles as the entire breast, the nipple, underarm lymph nodes and chest wall muscles are removed. The patient can still have breast reconstruction.

Chemotherapy may be ordered to shrink the lump before surgery. Radiation is usually ordered after a lumpectomy. Some types of breast cancer use hormone therapy. Immunotherapy is used as the power of your own immune system can target cells to attack the breast cancer cells. Targeted drug therapy is another therapy that is also used.


I have a good friend that got the BRAC blood test, and it was positive. She had a double mastectomy as there was so much cancer in her family. BRCA1 or BRCA2 both indicate an increased risk for breast cancer. If you have a family member with cancer you may want to get this blood test.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Pamela Oglesby

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