A lump in the breast is almost always cancer.
Most breast lumps are benign (not cancerous). The main types of non-cancerous breast lumps are fibrosis (large amounts of fibrous breast tissue) and cysts (fluid-filled sacs). If you notice any breast lumps or other changes in one of your breasts, see a doctor.
Doctors recommend breast self-exams (BSE) once per year.
Monthly breast self-exams used to be recommended. However, research shows there was little evidence these helped detect breast cancer earlier. The current American Cancer Society recommendation is that women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and should see a doctor if they notice any changes.
Risk for breast cancer can be inherited.
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease. The risk for developing breast cancer is doubled if you have a first-degree female relative (mother, sister, daughter) with the disease. If two first-degree family members have been diagnosed, the risk increases to five times.
In addition there is an abnormal gene associated with a high risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) that may be inherited. An abnormal CHEK2 gene may also be associated with developing breast cancer. Breast cancer associated with an inherited abnormal gene tends to develop at an earlier age (under age 40) and it is also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Breast cancer starts because abnormal cells grow out of control.
Cancer is, by definition, caused when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control. Normal cells divide in an orderly way and eventually die out, with new cells taking their place. Cancer cells continue to grow and make new cells, crowding out the normal, healthy cells. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), which normal cells cannot do.
Which is the most common form of breast cancer?
The most common form of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), accounting for about 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses. This type of breast cancer begins in the milk duct of the breast and eventually infiltrates the fatty or fibrous tissue of the breast. The cancer cells then have the potential to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Benign tumors in the breast are capable of metastasis.
Benign tumors are not considered to be a form of cancer and therefore do not metastasize. They have not acquired the capability of uncontrolled growth like malignant tumors, and they cannot grow into (invade) other tissues. Benign tumors typically do not recur after they have been surgically removed.
What are some breast cancer risk factors for women?
Lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer that you can change include:
- Alcohol use
- Being overweight or obese
- Not having children or having the first child after age 30
- Physical inactivity
- Use of some hormonal birth control
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause, particularly estrogen and progesterone (combined hormone therapy or HT)
Other risk factors for breast cancer (things you cannot change):
- Being a woman
- Age over 55
- Inherited genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2 and others
- Family history of breast cancer
- Personal history of breast cancer
- Having dense breast tissue
- White women are overall slightly more likely to develop breast cancer, but African-American women are more likely to develop breast cancer under age 45
- Certain benign breast conditions
- Early onset of menstruation (before age 12)
- Menopause after age 55
- Radiation to the chest
Where is the highest concentration of breast cancer in the United States?
According to the State Cancer Profiles tool, which is a collaborative effort between the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute, The District of Columbia, (Washington, D.C.) as the highest rate of breast cancer in the U.S., with nearly 153 out of every 100,000 women diagnosed with the disease annually.
Which state has the lowest incidence of breast cancer nationwide?
The U.S. state with the lowest incidence of breast cancer is Arkansas, with only about 106 breast cancer cases per 100,000 women each year.
Breast pain is a common symptom of breast cancer.
Breast pain is not a common symptom of breast cancer. Sometimes, breast cancers are found by screening when they are very small and do not produce symptoms. When they do cause symptoms, a mass or lump in the breast is the most common symptom. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer are skin irritation, redness, dimpling, and thickening; retraction of the nipple; nipple discharge, and swelling of all or part of the breast.
You or someone you know has found a lump in the breast. Now what?
As stated before, most breast lumps or masses are not cancer. Lumps in the breast may be related to the menstrual cycle in younger women and may even come and go depending on the cycle. But it is always best to have any lump checked out by a health care provider.
Images provided by:
4. MedicineNet Illustration
Cancer.org. Benign breast conditions: Not All Lumps Are Cancer.
Cancer.org. Breast Awareness and Self-Exam.
Breastcancer.org. Can I Inherit Breast Cancer?
National Cancer Institute: Breast Cancer Risk Factors
National Cancer Institute. The Breasts.
The American Cancer Society. How Cancer Starts.
American Cancer Society. Types of Breast Cancers.
National Cancer Institute: Metastatic Cancer.
National Cancer Institute: Cancer Cells.
American Cancer Society. What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?
Womenshealth.gov. Breast Cancer
NIH and CDC State Cancer Profiles
American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer.
Susan G. Komen. Facts for Life. When You Discover a Lump or Change.
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