Growth and death of cells is a natural process controlled by the systems inside our body. When these systems fail to work properly, and cells start dying at an abnormal rate, it is likely that you are suffering from cancer. The rate of cell growth becomes more than cell death. This excess growth creates mass of tissue which may turn out to be a cancer trigging tumour.
Breast cancer occurs when cells in your breast divide and grow at an abnormally high rate and slowly give birth to tumours. Some tumours grow much faster, but usually they are slow. If a lump is large enough to be noticed, it may be ten years old.
Most of the breast cancers begin in the milk ducts, some begin in the lobules and a few others begin in other breast tissues.
In this article we shall throw light upon how to know if you have breast cancer, the causes of breast cancer and breast cancer symptoms.
Causes of breast cancer
Unfortunately, doctors haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of breast cancer, but they do know that breast cancer is always a result of damage to a cell’s DNA. There are certain risk factors that have a serious impact on a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. The risk factors are as follows:
Progressing age - The risk of developing breast cancer goes up with age. Over 80% of female breast cancer cases occur in women aged 50 years and above.
Genetics - Women with close relatives or family members who have breast cancer or ovarian cancer are at increased risk of developing breast cancer in future.
History of Breast Cancer - Women who have had breast cancer or even non-invasive cancer previously are at high risk of developing it again, either in the same breast or the other breast.
Having Benign Breast Lumps - Women who have had benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are more likely to develop breast cancer in future.
Density of Breast Tissue - Women with denser breast tissue have higher chance of developing breast cancer.
Exposure to Estrogen - Women who started having periods earlier than normal or entered menopause later than usual have been exposed to estrogen for longer which increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
Being Overweight or Obese - Women who have gained substantial weight post menopause or are suffering from obesity are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Excessive body weight or obesity after menopause increases the production of estrogen in the body.
Alcohol Consumption - Your risk of developing cancer is linked to the amount of alcohol you drink. The more alcohol your drink per day, the higher is the risk of developing breast cancer.
Radiation - Certain medical procedures that involve radiations such as X-rays and CT scans may slightly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
How do you know you if have breast cancer?
It is important to be aware of the normal looks and feels of your breasts, and know what changes to look for in case of a breast cancer. It is an important way to maintain your breast health.
The symptoms of breast cancer are not same for all women. If you have any of the symptoms described below, you need to see a health care provider immediately.
A lump in your breast
A lump or mass in the breast is one of the most common symptoms of breast cancer. These lumps are mostly stiff and painless. Occasionally some lumps may be painful. All lumps are not cancer. Since the breast tissues have a bumpy texture, many women find their breasts clumpy. Lumpiness of breasts differs from women to women. In most of the cases, this lumpiness is harmless. If the lumpiness is evenly felt throughout the breast, you can dismiss the worry as a normal breast tissue. There are few “benign breast conditions” like fibroadenoma or cysts that can cause lumps. To play safe, if any new lump occurs, or if your lumps feel harder from the rest of the breast you should see a doctor right away. It may turn out to be a sign of breast cancer, and if it does, the sooner it’s diagnosed the better.
How do you know if you have breast cancer? Well, you can only read the signs. You need a doctor to get it confirmed. Symptoms for breast cancer related to breast lumps are:
- A new lump or change in lumps that feels different from the rest of your breast
- A new lump or a change in lumps which you cannot feel in your other breast
- Feel something different from what you felt before
It is recommended to consult a doctor if you get doubts about a new lump or change in lumps. If you had a benign lump, it will be best not to assume the new lump to be same. It may not be breast cancer, but it will be sensible to make sure and have the peace of mind.
Swelling in or around your breasts, collarbones or armpit
Inflammatory breast cancer can cause unnatural breast swelling. It is an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Swelling or lumps in and around breasts, collarbones or armpits is a symptom of breast cancer. It occurs when breast cancer spreads to lymph nodes near collarbones or armpits. At times, you can feel the swelling before there occurs a lump or changes in lumps in your breast. If you feel this symptom of breast cancer, get it checked by a doctor.
Skin thickening or redness
If your breast skin starts getting red or feels like an orange peel, you should get it checked right away. They are often caused by mastitis, a breast infection common among breast feeding mothers. You may be prescribed with antibiotics to treat the infection. If it does not improve within a week, you need to get it checked again, because these can also be symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer. It looks like a breast infection, and since it is quick to spread, it is important to get it diagnosed as soon as possible.
Breast warmth and itching
Breast warmth and itching can be the symptoms of mastitis – or inflammatory breast cancer. You may be prescribed with antibiotics at first, if they do not help, see the doctor again.
At times, breast cancer changes the looks of your nipples. Symptoms of breast cancer include inward turning of your nipples, or thickening of the nipple skin or nipples becoming red or scaly. If you get these breast cancer symptoms, see a doctor right away.
Liquid discharging from your nipple other than milk may be alarming, though it is hardly a breast cancer symptom. In most cases it is caused by an injury, or an infection, or a benign tumour. But there is always a possibility of a breast cancer. It may be a symptom of breast cancer if the fluid is bloody.
Symptoms of breast cancer to look for in case of Nipple Discharge are as follows:
- Discharge occurs without squeezing the nipple
- Discharge occurs in only one breast
- Discharge is bloody or clear
Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or other condition that needs treatment. If you have any nipple discharge, see a health care provider.
Pin in the breasts can be one of the symptoms of breast cancer. Women often have breast pain or discomfort during their menstrual cycle. At times they experience the pain before their periods, and it is relieved once the menstruation begins. Some benign breast conditions, for example mastitis, may cause a sudden pain in the breasts. If you experience severe persisting breast pain not related to the menstrual cycle, you should immediately see a doctor. You may have cancer or a benign condition which should be immediately treated.
Men and Breast Cancer
Unlike women, men do not have complex breast development, though they begin their lives with a similar breast tissue. High testosterone levels and low estrogen levels stop breast development in males during their puberty. Their milk ducts remain undeveloped. Lobules are mostly absent.
Breast cancer, though not associated with men in general, can occur in rare instances. The breast tissues in men can undergo cancerous changes, exposing them to breast problems, including breast cancer. Since breast cells in men are less developed, breast cancer is not as common in men as in women.
Like in women, one of the most common symptoms of breast cancer in men is a lump in the breast tissue.
Other breast cancer symptoms in men are:
- Lump, hard knot or thickening in the breast, chest or underarm area
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or redness of the breast skin
- Itchy nipples or scaly sore or rash on the nipples
- Inverted nipple
- Nipple discharge
Since men do not check their breast tissue for signs of lumps, breast cancer in men is often diagnosed much later, especially when it is beyond cure.
Now that you are aware of the symptoms of breast cancer, it is recommended to consult a doctor if you notice the symptoms mentioned above. Although it may turn out to be a false call, you will have the peace of mind if the doubts are cleared. Life is short, make haste and don’t waste.
All the treatments – medicines, injections and vaccines are for general information of the reader. Please consult a doctor and get a formal prescription before taking any medicines, supplements and injections.
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