First off, understanding some of the risk factors can be important in understanding the female breast and breast cancer itself. There are many risk factors for breast cancer, but just because you may have some or all of these risk factors does not mean you have the disease. Also, there are times one will have no risk factors, signs or symptoms, so it is important to have your regular mammograms and checkups with your health care provider. Some of these risk factors are, but not limited to: starting your menstrual cycle at an early age, never giving birth or having a child at an older age, having an immediate female family member who has breast cancer (such as mother, daughter or sister), treatment with radiation therapy to the chest area, obesity, and taking the hormones estrogen and progesterone for menopause. A few other risk factors are; not exercising enough, drinking alcohol, and taking diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy, or being the daughter of a woman who took diethylstilbestrol.
There are many signs of breast cancer, as with the risk factors, you may have no signs, or the symptoms or signs you are having might not be breast cancer. If you have any of the following signs or symptoms you should consult your doctor and have the necessary tests done so treatment can be started right away if needed, there are other conditions, other than cancer that may cause these same signs. Some signs and symptoms include and not limited to: a lump in or near the breast or in the underarm area, a change in size and/or shape of the breast, a nipple turned inward into the breast, fluid (other than milk) coming from the nipple, and having red or swollen skin on the breast, nipple or areola.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer certain tests are done to find out if the cancer cells have spread, to other parts of the body or throughout the breast. This process that is used is called staging. It is very important to have that process done to determine the stage of breast cancer to start with the right treatment plan.
Stages of breast cancer
Stage 0 – DCIS and LCIS
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is noninvasive, abnormal cells are found in the lining of the breast duct. In some cases it may become invasive cancer but there is no way to know which lesions could become invasion or spread to the outside of the duct to other tissues.
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is where abnormal cells are found in the lobules of the breast. This condition rarely becomes invasive, although having LCIS in one breast heightens the chances of getting cancer in the other breast.
Stage 1 breast cancer means it is contained to only the area where the abnormal cells began. This also means the cancer has been detected early enough to have an effective treatment. Stage 1 can also be divided into two different groups: Stage 1A and Stage 1B. In Stage 1A the tumor is no greater than two centimeters and has not spread to the lymph nodes. Stage 1B there is evidence of small clusters of abnormal cells that are greater than 0.2 millimeter but also not greater than 2 millimeters in the lymph nodes or there is no tumor found.
Stage 2 – divided into 2A and 2B
Stage 2A no tumor is found or there is a tumor that is 2 centimeters or smaller, or the tumor is 2 centimeters to 5 centimeters and the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes. Stage 2B, the tumor is greater than 2 centimeters but no more than 5, with small clusters of cancer cells found in the lymph nodes. Or, the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes but the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters.
Stage 3 – divided into 3A, 3B and 3C
Stage 3A, there may be no tumor found or the tumor can be of any size and the cancer is found near the breastbone, which can be found during a physical exam. Also, the tumor can be larger than 5 centimeters and clusters are found in the lymph nodes. Stage 3B, the cancer has spread to the chest wall and maybe to the skin of the breast. This causes swelling and possibly an ulcer. Cancer that has spread to the skin is also known as Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Stage 3C the tumor is just as 3A and 3B, as well as 3B, spreading to skin, causing swelling or ulcers, and may have spread to chest wall. Stage 3C may have spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, to the lymph nodes around the collarbone
Stage 4 breast cancer is the breast cancer that has spread to other organs. It spreads to lungs, liver, brain and the bones most often. Stage 4 is incurable.
There are treatment plans and technology that will allow a woman to live several years after being diagnosed, with the right treatments and personal motivation and family support.