Breast Cancer Definition
Breast cancer is a disease that can affect both men and women, although it’s far more common in the latter. When cells within the breast become abnormal and multiply uncontrollably, a tumor is formed. If this tumor is untreated, cancer can spread from the breast to other areas in the body in a process called metastasis.
There are numerous types of breast cancer, and they are identified by the malignant cells within the breast. Most varieties of breast cancer originate in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple, but others start in the milk glands themselves. Less common varieties start in other breast tissues.
Breast Cancer Stages
Understanding the causes of breast cancer will better help you understand the various stages and how that information relates to treatment and prognosis. Breast cancer stages are broken down into five categories, Stage 0 to Stage IV.
Just like other forms of cancer, no two breast cancers are exactly the same. Your doctor will prescribe a series of tests on tissues and the cancer itself to develop a profile of your specific cancer. Some tests are done after your biopsy, and others will take place after your lumpectomy or mastectomy. The cumulative results of these tests become known as your “pathology report.” This information is also used to determine breast cancer stages.
There are four characteristics that also help determine each of the breast cancer stages. These include:
● The cancer’s size
● Whether it’s non-invasive or invasive
● Whether it’s spread to the lymph nodes
● Whether it’s spread to other areas in your body other than the breast
If your breast cancer is confined to the breast, it may be referred to as “local.” If it’s spread to nearby lymph nodes, like those in your armpit, the cancer may be referred to as “regional.” If cancer is found in other parts of your body, your doctor may refer to it as “distant.”
Understanding which stage your cancer is in will help you and your doctor determine possible treatment options and your overall prognosis (the most likely outcome). How breast cancer stages are defined offer a common framework that makes it easier to understand how your cancer compares to that of other patients. Still, your cancer is unique, so it’s important to weigh treatment decisions carefully.
Breaking Down Breast Cancer Stages
What follows is a brief overview of each of the breast cancer stages.
Stage 0 Breast Cancer – These are non-invasive breast cancers. The cancer is localized to the breast in which they started, with no evidence of spreading to any neighboring tissue. This includes both cancerous and non-cancerous cells.
Stage I Breast Cancer – This describes invasive breast cancer cells that are invading normal breast tissue surrounding the tumor. Stage I breast cancer is further broken down into State IA and Stage IB.
If the tumor measures 2 centimeters or less and has not spread throughout the breast or nearby lymph nodes, it’s referred to as Stage IA. Stage IB describes invasive breast cancer that meets the following criteria:
● In the absence of a tumor in the breast, small groups of cancer cells smaller than 2 millimeters but larger than 0.2 millimeters are found in the lymph nodes.
● There is a breast tumor smaller than 2 centimeters in size, and there are small groups of cancer cells smaller than 2 millimeters but larger than 0.2 millimeters in the lymph nodes.
In Stage I breast cancer, invading cancer cells measuring less than 1 millimeter in size have just started to invade tissue outside of the lobule or duct lining. This is called ‘microscopic invasion.”
Stage II Breast Cancer – As with Stage 1, this stage is broken down into two subcategories – Stage IIA, and Stage IIB. Each is considered an invasive form of breast cancer.
The following criteria define various forms of Stage IIA Breast Cancer:
● No breast tumor is identified, but cancer is found in 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes that are at least 2 millimeters in size. Relative lymph nodes are located under the patient’s arm or near their breastbone.
● The tumor is no larger than 2 centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
● The tumor is under 5 centimeters in size but larger than 2 centimeters, and has not spread to any lymph nodes.
Stage IIB Breast Cancer is defined as:
● A tumor smaller than 5 centimeters, yet larger than 2 centimeters, and a small group of cancer cells at least .2 millimeters but not larger than 2 millimeters in size also found in the lymph nodes.
● A tumor no larger than 5 centimeters and larger than 2 centimeters, and cancer that has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes in the armpit or near the breastbone.
● A tumor that is bigger than 5 centimeters but hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes.
Stage III Breast Cancer
Stage III breast cancer is broken down into 3 subcategories, Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, and Stage IIIC. All are invasive.
Stage IIIA defines breast cancer that fits any of these sets of criteria:
● The breast tumor may be any size or not present at all, but cancer is found in from 4 to 9 axillary or breastbone lymph nodes.
● The breast tumor is bigger than 5 centimeters in size, and small groups of cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes that measure from .2 to 2 millimeters.
● The breast tumor is bigger than 5 centimeters in size, and cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary or breastbone lymph nodes.
Stage IIIB breast cancer refers to cancers that meet the following sets of criteria:
● The breast tumor is any size and has spread to the skin of the breast or chest wall. There is also an ulcer or swelling.
● The cancer may have spread to up to 9 lymph nodes in either the breastbone or under the arm (axillary).
● The breast cancer is “inflammatory.” This means that a large portion of the breast may exhibit signs of reddening, feels warm, is swollen, or that cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes or the skin.
Stage IIIC breast cancer is defined as any of the following:
● There may be no sign of breast cancer, or the tumor may be of any size and could have spread to the skin of the breast and/or the chest wall AND any of the following…
● Cancer has spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes
● Cancer has spread to lymph nodes located below or above the collarbone
● Cancer has spread to breastbone or axillary lymph nodes
Stage IV Breast Cancer
This describes breast cancer that has spread beyond the regional area and lymph nodes surrounding the breast to other organs of the body, including lungs, skin, bones, lymph nodes, bones, brain, or liver. Stage IV breast cancer may also be described as “metastatic” or “advanced.”
A Few Words about the TNM Staging System
TNM stands for Tumor, Node, Metastasis. The TNM staging system is used by researchers to provide more detailed information about how a particular cancer looks and behaves. Your healthcare provider may or may not mention TNM classification, but it’s more commonly used when patients who participate in clinical trials.
The TNM staging system seeks to codify information about the cancer into the three categories that comprise its acronym. The size of the tumor is measured by T. Lymph node involvement is measured by N. If the cancer has metastasized (moved to other parts of the body), it is measured with the M.
The primary tumor (T), is categorized as follows:
● TX means no tumor was found
● T0 means no evidence of the primary tumor exists
● Tis means the tumor has not yet grown into healthy breast tissue (in situ)
● T1, T2, T3, T4 identify the size of the breast tumor and the level to which it’s grown into neighboring tissue. Larger T-numbers means more growth.
The (N) is categorized as follows, and refers to lymph node involvement:
● NX means nearby lymph nodes can’t be located or measured
● N0 identifies cancer-free lymph nodes
● N1, N2, N3 identify the quantity of affected lymph nodes. Larger numbers represent greater lymph node affectation.
The (M) relates information related to metastasis:
● MX means metastasis cannot be found or measured
● M0 means there is no metastasis present in distant parts of the body
● M1 means that metastasis is present.
This information is used by your pathologist to assign a State to your particular breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Statistics
How likely are you to get breast cancer? How effective are breast cancer treatments? How likely are men to get breast cancer? There are a number of statistics readily available that illustrate just how widespread breast cancer is in the United States. What follows are some interesting facts related to both non-invasive and invasive breast cancer.
● Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the United States at some point in their life.
● It is estimated that in 2018, more than 63,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer, and over 266,000 cases of invasive breast cancer, will be diagnosed in women in the United States.
● A man has only a 1 in 1,000 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
● Breast cancer incidence rates have been dropping since the year 2000. Some medical professionals believe this is due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy, which suggests a link between HRT and increased risk of breast cancer.
● Death rates are also decreasing among women suffering from breast cancer. A little over 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer in 2018. Better awareness, better screening, and better treatment are all cited as factors for reducing death rates.
● Breast cancer death rates are higher for women than any other form of cancer except lung cancer.
● African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than Caucasian women.
● If a woman has a mother, sister, or daughter that’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, her risk of the disease is doubled.
● Nearly 85% of breast cancer occurs in women with family history of the disease. In these cases, breast cancer is due to genetic mutations associated with age and external factors rather than those that are inherited.
● Age and gender are the most significant risk factors for developing breast cancer.
Causes of Breast Cancer
The causes of breast cancer are unclear to doctors and scientists, but there are certain risk factors that can be identified. Even so, high risk candidates for breast cancer seldom get the disease, while many women with limited risk factors do.
A risk factor is anything that may increase a person’s risk of getting breast cancer. Some of the more common risk factors include a family history of breast cancer and simply getting older. Some risk factors can’t be avoided while others, like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, can be avoided.
Women who have certain types of benign breast lumps or who have previously had breast cancer are also at higher risk. Women with direct relatives who have suffered from breast cancer are also far more likely to develop the disease. If you have a family member with breast cancer, then you may have genetic markers that make you more likely to develop the disease.
There is a clear link to hormones within your body and breast cancer. As a woman ages, her exposure to estrogen and progesterone rises and falls. If a woman begins menstruating before the age of 12, her risk of breast cancer increases. This is also true when:
● A woman has her first child after the age of 30
● A woman stops menstruating after the age of 55
● A woman whose menstrual cycle is shorter or longer than 26-29 days
There is some debate on whether risk factors increase or decrease when dietary choices enter the mix. Some studies indicate that high-fat diets increase breast cancer risk factors. Obesity and alcohol consumption may also play a role. Still other studies show that woman who limit their daily fat calorie macros to 20% to 30% reduce their chances of getting breast cancer.
Obviously, there is still much to learn in regards to causes of breast cancer. There is promising work in some areas of alternative breast cancer treatments, which seem to indicate that diet plays an even stronger role than traditionally suspected.
Breast Cancer Symptoms – Signs of breast cancer
Most people think that breast cancers always begin with a noticeable lump, but this is not always true. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all, which underscores the importance of routine screening mammograms. Mammograms are capable of detecting cancers at their earliest stages, often before symptoms develop, and even before they’re felt.
Still, it’s important to know how your breasts normally look and feel, so that you can identify potential symptoms if and when they appear. The most common of breast cancer symptoms is a new mass or lump on the breast. If this mass is hard, has irregular edges, and doesn’t cause any noticeable pain, it is more likely to be cancer. However, these masses may also cause pain, sometimes significant pain.
There are other possible breast cancer symptoms to be aware of. These include:
● Swelling in all or part of the breast (regardless of whether a lump is present)
● Dimpling or irritation in the skin (this may have an “orange peel” wrinkling)
● Pain in the breast or nipple
● Turning inward of the nipple (also called nipple retraction)
● Thickening, scaling, or redness in the breast’s skin or nipple
● Nipple discharge of anything other than breast milk
It’s also possible to notice lumps or swelling in the lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone area. This could be a sign of breast cancer that has spread into a lymph node. It may also be unrelated to breast cancer, yet still potentially cancerous as in cases of lymphoma and sarcoma. If you notice any swelling in your lymph nodes, you should have them checked by your healthcare provider without delay.
Even mammograms are incapable of detecting every form of breast cancer, so it’s important to recognize any changes in your breasts. You should also familiarize yourself with these signs of breast cancer, so you can do everything you can to detect a tumor as early as possible.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer – An Overview
The three most common receptors that fuel breast cancer growth are estrogen, progesterone, and the epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2). When none of these receptors are present in the tumor, this is referred to as a triple negative breast cancer.
Triple negative breast cancers cannot be treated with drugs that target these receptors, nor are they receptive to hormone therapy. This leaves chemotherapy and alternative breast cancer treatments as possible options. Some studies seem to indicate that triple negative breast cancer responds better to chemotherapy in its early stages than other varieties of cancer.
Triple negative breast cancer is more prevalent than many people realize, as it occurs in about 10% to 20% of diagnosed breast cancers. It’s also more likely to affect African Americans, Hispanics, younger people, and patients with a BRCA1 gene mutation.
Unfortunately, triple negative breast cancer can be more difficult to treat due to its aggressive nature and ability to spread and recur in many patients.
Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention
The best way to prevent suffering the devastating effects of breast cancer is to find it in its earliest stages. Screening for breast cancer can be done using any method where a woman’s breasts are checked for cancer before signs of cancer develop.
Health professionals agree that the best way to screen for breast cancer is with a mammogram. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts that is able to pinpoint breast cancer before it’s large enough to feel or cause any symptoms in the patient. It is proven that regular mammograms reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Women at average risk of developing breast cancer between the ages of 50 to 74 should receive a mammogram once every two years. Woman between 40 and 49 should speak to their healthcare provider about when to start and how frequently to get a mammogram.
Women who are high-risk candidates for breast cancer may also want to seek screening in the form of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and magnets to take detailed pictures of the breast in an effort to find cancer in its earliest stages. MRIs are routinely used with mammograms to screen women with high risk of developing breast cancer, but not for women with average risk or below.
Breast exams are another form of screening, and can either be self-administered or administered by a healthcare professional. Clinical and personal breast exams seek to find areas on the breast that have lumps, are painful, or have changed in size. If you notice any of these symptoms when performing a self-screening breast exam, you should immediately inform your doctor.
Keep in mind that statistics show self-exams and clinical exams do not lower the risk of dying from breast cancer, so you should take note of other screening options that apply to your situation.
While there is no way to change genetic risk factors for breast cancer, there are lifestyle choices that may help prevent the risk of acquiring the disease. These changes are worth considering no matter your personal risk factors, but women at high risk for breast cancer should seriously take note of their lifestyle choices.
● Alcohol Consumption – The more alcohol you drink, the higher your chances of developing breast cancer. Research indicates that high risk patients should drink no more than one drink per day.
● Smoking – Evidence indicates that smoking increases the risk of developing breast cancer. There are numerous other benefits to quitting smoking, many of which are cancer prevention related.
● Weight – There is a proven link between obesity and breast cancer risk.
● Activity Level – Exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, it also benefits the body in numerous other ways that can help prevent the onset of cancer.
● Breastfeeding – There is clinical evidence that suggests breastfeeding plays a fundamental role in breast cancer prevention. Breast feeding for a longer duration increases this overall effect.
● Hormone Therapy – If you have menopause, and take hormone therapy to help with symptoms, you may want to seek other medical options. Studies show that hormone therapy of only three years can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
● Exposure to Radiation and Pollution – You should only have tests that use radiation when necessary. This reduces your overall exposure to radiation, which can have an adverse effect on your health. The same is true of environmental pollution, some of which can have a cumulative effect on your body.
● Diet – Obviously, a healthy diet will help you control your weight, but some foods may even decrease your risk of developing cancer. Some oil-rich and plant-based diets have also been associated with risk mitigation. There are even some alternative breast cancer treatments based around diet.
Alternative Breast Cancer Treatment
Traditional breast cancer treatments focus on the disease, not the patient. Some say that this is problematic, because every patient’s breast cancer is unique to them. While traditional drug therapy or chemotherapy may work for one patient, it may totally fail for another. For this reason, many patients don’t actually die because of their malignancy, but because of the side effects resulting from treatment.
Further complicating matters is the fact that treatment may only work for a period of time before the breast cancer returns. Alternative breast cancer treatments seek non-traditional means to fight the specific cancer in each individual patient. Sometimes alternative treatments use a combination of traditional and non-traditional treatments, depending on the stage and severity of the cancer.
Some alternative breast cancer treatments focus on the body’s natural ability to heal itself. The goal is the bolster the body’s immune system so that it naturally fights and kills the breast cancer cells.
Alternative breast cancer treatment are also called “complementary” methods. These are alternative treatment methods that seek to relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life as treatment progresses. The reason they are called “alternative” is because they fall outside of what is considered “mainstream medicine.”
Some other forms of alternative breast cancer treatments include:
● Traditional medicine
● Special diets
The choice to pursue alternative breast cancer treatment is ultimately up to the patient. Before entering into any breast cancer treatment protocol, you should explore your options and seek medical advice from a health professional whom you trust.
Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Breast Cancer
As mentioned above, vitamins and supplements may be used to treat breast cancer, or reduce the symptoms associated with the disease and its treatment. There is a long list of vitamins and supplements used for these purposes, with varying degrees of evidence that support their effectiveness.
Some of the more promising vitamins and supplements used to treat breast cancer include beta-carotene, olive, soy, and Vitamin A. There are many others that may help, but there aren’t enough studies to prove their effectiveness. Some of these include black cohosh, Brussels sprouts, collards, ginseng, kale, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K, among others.
One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting necessary vitamins is by maintaining a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables. It’s also important to talk to your doctor before considering any supplement or vitamin to help with cancer treatment or alleviating symptoms.
Natural Remedies that May Help Breast Cancer
Not only do those suffering from breast cancer often seek natural remedies for prevention and treatment, they also seek ways to counter the adverse of effects of traditional treatments like chemotherapy. Even if treatments are successful, breast cancer patients may be left with a number of side effects that can make life feel like a struggle.
Common side effects associated with many mainstream breast cancer treatments include:
● Chronic fatigue syndrome
● Breast pain
Diet plays a considerable role in a patient’s overall health when dealing with the side effects of treatment. It’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough calories in your diet. These should be divided between proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Also referred to as “macros,” your doctor will help you better understand how essential foods ensure you get the right vitamins in their proper doses.
It’s also important to recognize that exercise is its own natural remedy. Cancer treatments can decrease your energy and make it difficult to sleep. For the body to combat these side effects of treatment, it needs to be in optimal health. An active lifestyle will help you increase endurance, sleep better, and reduce your stress levels. It may also reduce your risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Other natural remedies are anything that help you deal with pain, and can include ice packs, warm compresses, or even an Epsom salt bath. Increasing your comfort level will help you deal with the nasty side effects associated with treatment, which in turn may help you heal faster.
Breast Cancer in Men
For most men, breast cancer symptoms are identical to that of their female counterparts. However, because breast cancer in men is so rare, they often don’t seek treatment until severe symptoms like bleeding from the nipple are encountered.
It’s rare for men under 35 years of age to develop breast cancer, and most cases involve men over 60. Many of the same risk factors affect men that affect women, but men may also be at higher risk of developing breast cancer if any of the following applies:
● They take estrogen
● There is enlargement of their breasts (gynecomastia)
● They have Klinefelter’s Syndrome
● They have cirrhosis of the liver
● They have a disease of the testicles, injury to the testicles, or an undescended testicle
Symptoms are similar to that of women, so if a man notices a lump on their breast they should have it immediately checked out by a doctor. Diagnosis and treatment are also very similar.
If you have any questions or concerns about breast cancer, schedule a free consultation at Causenta Cancer Treatment Center today.