Fact Checked

A Comprehensive Guide to Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

  • A breast cancer diagnosis is something most women dread hearing from their doctor. They possibly have found a lump in their breast and are wondering how far along the mass has been developing.
  • There are many types of breast cancer, but each one is not a death sentence.
  • It is important to get screened; that’s the first step. That way you start with breast cancer treatments straight away - advised to you from your doctor.
  • There are ways that you can help your body to improve in health. These methods can help fight the disease in your body when you have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Today, in 2021, 90 out of 1000 women are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. The 10-year survival rate is 84%.

Introduction – What Is Breast Cancer?

October is breast awareness month – and we as women want to be confident that we have healthy breasts. But nobody knows when and if you will ever have to go through hearing those dreaded words, “You have breast cancer.”

Many women reel from the shock and panic – they try and figure out how they could have contracted this dreaded disease.

Breast cancer starts like a lot of cancers. It’s when the cells grow out of control. These cells build up and form a tumor that the doctor will see on an x-ray, showing up as a lump.

It’s a women’s disease, mostly, but men are also susceptible to breast cancer. Your doctor, after diagnostic tests, will be able to tell you whether the lump you found is benign, not cancerous, or malignant, cancerous.

Different Types of Breast Cancer

Types of Breast Cancer

Some women might not realize that there is more than just one ‘cancer of the breast’. There are different types. The most common one being Ductal Carcinoma in situ. Others are invasive ductal carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, and also metastatic breast cancer.

  • Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) – This is non-invasive cancer. It’s when and where abnormal cells are found in the lining of the breast milk duct.
  • Invasive Lobular Cancer (ILC) – Cancer starts in the milk glands and spreads to the normal tissue around, spreading through the rest of the body.
  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) – This is when the cancer cells infiltrate the lymph vessels and skin of the breast. As the lymph vessels become blocked by the cancer cells, symptoms of breast cancer start to appear.
  • Metastatic Breast Cancer – This is stage 4 breast cancer, where cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. These parts could be bones, liver, lungs, and even the brain.

Other types of breast cancer are Medullary breast cancer[1] and Triple Negative breast cancer[2].

Breast Cancer Stages

  • Clinical Prognostic Stage: This stage occurs after your health history is established. It will emerge after you have undergone physical examinations, imaging tests, and biopsies. A mammogram or ultrasound will check to see if the symptoms of breast of cancer, like the lymph nodes, show any signs of cancer.
  • Pathological Prognostic Stage: This is the stage when the patient has their first surgery. It will be after laboratory results have shown what the levels of cancer are. Removal of cancerous breast tissue and lymph nodes could be necessary.
  • Post-Therapy or Post-Neoadjuvant Therapy Staging: This stage determines how much cancer is still in the body after the patient has been treated by chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, or even when no surgery is performed.
  • Restaging: This stage is used to determine the extent of cancer if it comes back after treatment. The doctors can then work out the best breast cancer treatments there are.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Most women associate the start of breast cancer with a lump that they feel in the breast. But because symptoms can vary, you must know what the signs are to look out for.

The lump can be located anywhere on your chest wall to under your armpits. You might notice nipple bleeding or discharge or changes in shape – even pain. Look out for redness or swelling in the area of the breasts.

The breasts might have changed in shape, too; you might notice they have increased in size. Don’t forget that these symptoms of breast cancer don’t necessarily indicate you have breast cancer, but they are outward signs[3].

Typical Diagnostic Breast Cancer Treatments for All the Breast Cancer Stages

Diagnostic Tests and Tools

Diagnostic Tests and Tools

  • Breast Examination – Your doctor will check both of your breasts and lymph nodes in your armpits, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities.
  • Mammogram – It takes x-rays of your breast and is commonly used to screen for the different types of breast cancer. If your doctor does notice an abnormality, he might recommend a diagnostic mammogram[4] to investigate the irregularity.
  • Breast Ultrasound – An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images inside the body. In the case of breast cancer, the ultrasound will determine whether a new breast lump is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass.
  • Biopsy – A sample of your breast cells, called a biopsy, will give you the diagnosis of cancer. The biopsy samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis – experts will determine whether the cells are cancerous. The biopsy sample will be analyzed to determine everything the doctor needs to know about the cancer cells and breast cancer stages to determine your treatment options.
  • Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – An MRI machine will create pictures of the inside of your breast. It doesn’t use radiation to create the images.

Recently, there has been an explosion of life-saving treatment advances against the different types of breast cancer. There is hope and excitement about these.

Today, you have a menu of choices to help if you have symptoms of breast cancer. You can plan your treatment, get a second opinion, and decide on surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and more. Let’s check a few.

Breast Cancer Surgery

  • Lumpectomy – The lump is removed from the breast under surgery.
  • Mastectomy – It is a surgery where the cancerous breast is removed.
  • Lymph Node Dissection – This is a surgical procedure where the lymph nodes get removed. The tissue is checked under the microscope to detect cancer.
  • Prophylactic Surgery – It is a surgery where a gland or organ is removed to prevent the development of cancer in that very organ or gland.
  • Breast Reconstruction – Women choose it to rebuild and reshape the look of their breasts again after surgery.

Breast Cancer Treatments

Breast Cancer Treatments

  • Chemotherapy – This type of therapy removes cancer cells with the use of drugs.
  • Radiation Therapy – It uses intense radiation energy beams to kill cancer cells.
  • Hormonal Therapy – Hormone therapy stops the growth and spread of cancer cells.
  • Targeted Therapy – Targeted therapy has a set of drugs to attack the enemy involved in the disease
  • Immunotherapy – It uses parts of your immune system to fight off cancer.
  • Complementary and Holistic Medicine – Some people love the thought that there are also breast cancer treatments that are holistic and complementary; to ward off the pain and discomfort of breast cancer in the body.

Environmental and Lifestyle Risk Factors

Did you know that 99% of breast cancer is thought to be caused by environmental factors? This can make a difference in women before menopause and postmenopause because factors can differ between the two groups.

  • The water we drink – In the purification process, a series of disinfectant by-products are used. These have been associated with heaps of cancers.
  • Exposure to artificial light – Exposure increases cancer risk. Here is a study associating artificial lighting at night[5] to an increased risk of prostate and breast cancer.
  • Eating and sleeping schedules – They could have vital implications regarding the prevention of cancer. Studies show that those who eat their evening meal before 9 pm or at least wait for 2 hours after eating before going to sleep have a 20% lower risk of breast and prostate cancer compared to those who eat after 10 pm or go to bed immediately after eating.
  • Working night shifts – Night shifts have also been associated with the risk of breast cancer. It is when you carry out activities that are out of sync with the sun. This leads to changes in internal metabolism.
  • Contact with green spaces – There is evidence to show that green spaces benefit our physical and mental health. A study observes a lower risk of breast cancer among women who live close to these green spaces.

How to Prevent Reaching Any of the Breast Cancer Stages as Best You Can

Be physically active
Although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are things you can do to help you know that you are doing your best to prevent it.

  • Keeping your weight healthy – Being overweight and obese increases your breast cancer risk, particularly after menopause. If you are at a healthy weight, keep it like that. If you are putting on, try to lose some. There’s some evidence to show that losing weight can lower your breast cancer risk.

  • Be physically active – avoid sitting too much – Many studies have found that regularly being physically active can reduce your cancer risk.

    The American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity[6] recommends at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercises each week.

  • Eat healthily – Eating healthily means consuming plenty of veggies, fruits of all colors, fiber-rich legumes like peas and beans, and healthy fats, too. These will ensure you get key nutrients to keep your weight under control as well.

  • Avoid alcohol if you can – Research shows that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer[7].
  • Consider using HRT/hormone replacement therapy as part of your breast cancer treatments carefully – Studies show that the combination of estrogen and progesterone increases the risk of breast cancer.

    The two hormones combined can also lead to increased breast density, which will make it hard to find breast cancer on a mammogram examination. If you stop taking it, after 3 years, your risk of breast cancer will have dropped to someone who has not used HRT.


Breast cancer and the symptoms of breast cancer is a disease that most women dread. Just mentioning it conjures up images of disfigurement, painful treatments, losing hair, and many other nasty side effects. For many other women, it means imminent death.

You believe you are starting a sickening journey towards the end of your life, and soon.

This breast cancer awareness month, if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can put aside some of the common misconceptions.

Almost all of the most feared side effects of breast cancer treatments are now completely manageable with medication and other therapies. Remember, too, that lots of patients don’t experience a lot of the side effects – they can continue with their normal activities.

Even though the bad news is that more than 200,000 women are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in a year, the good news is that the vast majority of them (more than four-fifths of them) will survive! Knowledge, combined with action, however, can equal survival for you.

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