When a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is always important to take the time to learn about breast cancer in order to better provide support and understanding. Breast cancer is complex with various forms or types of breast cancer. This is particularly important if you are wanting to fundraise on behalf of a loved one with breast cancer or when looking to receive breast cancer financial help. Understanding breast cancer can provide you with a foundation of knowledge to not only educate others on prevention and treatment of breast cancer, but to also understand the costs involved in getting the best medical care for breast cancer.
Below are the basics of what breast cancer is, the forms and causes. We hope that this information can keep you informed and assist when fundraising for a loved one with breast cancer.
What is breast Cancer?
Breast cancer refers to an abnormal growth of tissue within an individual’s breast that is dangerous as it can cause damage by attacking and disrupting normal breast tissue.
Breast cancer develops from normal breast tissue. This tissue is found in the structures within the breast that are accountable for making breast milk or transmitting the milk to the nipple. Although females are more prone to the disease, males are also susceptible to it.
Types of Breast Cancer
There are two leading types of breast cancer in Australia, and they include non-invasive breast cancer and invasive breast cancer.
1) Non-invasive (in situ) Breast Cancer
Non-invasive breast cancer refers to cancer of the breast that has not spread beyond its original position; it is in situ, or in place.
An example of a non-invasive breast cancer type is called the Ductal carcinoma in situ abbreviated as DCIS. It is a non-invasive breast cancer, which is recently becoming more common in Australia. It is not a life-threatening form of cancer, but it does increase the risk of invasive breast cancer during later life. The cancer cells associated with this condition are present and growing within the duct, but the cancer cells do not penetrate the duct wall. There are high chances that the condition will be cured and prevented to recur if the cancer is removed at this stage. The main problem with DCIS is that if it is not cured effectively, it can advance into invasive cancer over the years.
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): This means there are atypical cells in the inside layer of the milk lobule. Lobular carcinoma also occurs in two varieties, an invasive form and an in situ form. Having invasive lobular carcinoma is much more serious than having lobular carcinoma in situ because LCIS will not spread. This condition is more common in Australian women who are pre-menopausal and should be closely monitored.
2) Invasive Breast Cancer
Invasive breast cancer refers to cancer of the breast that has made its way out of its original position. It has spread further into the breast or outside the breast, causing cancer in other parts of the body.
An example of this is the ductal carcinoma, which is the most common type of breast cancer in Australia overall. It commences in the milk ducts of the breast, but unlike DCIS, it has developed the potential to spread to other sections of the woman’s body. The cancerous cells could achieve this by invading the lymph as well as blood vessels in the breast, and then being carried through them to other parts of the woman’s body, and end up forming tumours.
Lobular carcinoma is also an invasive cancer that starts in the lobules, where milk is made. It does not show up as a definite lump, making its diagnosis even difficult. It is common since it is certain for it to be diagnosed in both breasts at the same time.
Other types of breast cancer, which are commonly known to be rare. This includes the inflammatory breast cancer, which is a very aggressive and rare form of the disease. It affects the blood vessels that are found in the breast’s skin. One of the initial symptoms of the disease is a red, inflamed breast and there would normally not be any lumps present.
Another rare type of breast cancer is Paget’s which affects the nipple and the areola. This is normally attributed to invasive cancer that is present elsewhere within the breast.
Stages of Breast Cancer
Health professionals often use a breast cancer staging system called an anatomically based TNM system. The system allows health professionals to categorize patients with breast cancer into stages according to three factors. These are the tumour size and local extent of tumour ‘T’, degree of nodal involvement ‘N’, and presence or absence of metastasis ‘M’.
The main stages include the following.
Stage 1: refers to the stage where the tumour is less than two centimetres in diameter and negative axillary lymph nodes.
Stage 2: refers to the stage where thetumour is less than two centimetres and positive axillary nodes.
Stage 3: refers to the stage where the tumour is greater than five centimetres with positive axillary nodes.
Stage 4: refers to the stage where the presence of metastases to distant organs.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
The first noticeable sign of breast cancer is normally a lump in the breast or the thickening of the breast tissue. This is usually a lump in the breast that presents different sensation from one’s usual breast tissue. The fibrous tissue of the lump will be distinctly different to normal breast tissue. Lumps that are present in the nodes underneath the armpits may also be a sign of breast cancer.
There are other signs that could be an indication of breast cancer. A change in the texture of the skin or the colour of the skin, dimpling of the skin on the breast, a change in the structure and appearance of the nipple, and leakage of a bloody or clear fluid from the nipples, could be an indication of breast cancer.
A change in the figure or dimension of the breasts; either of the breasts might have become larger or smaller, or one seems to be pulling in a different direction.
Although pain that is experienced in the breast is normally not linked to cancer, unresolved pain in one part of the breast instead of the whole breast could be an indication that there is an issue within the breast.
There are other conditions that may cause similar symptoms and your symptoms may not be related to breast cancer at all. However, it is advisable that you seek medical advice if you experience any one of these symptoms.
Causes of Breast Cancer
The exact causes of breast cancer are still not clear, however the main risk factors related to the development of breast cancer are known to include the following:
– Hereditary: One of the main and common causes of diagnosis of breast cancer in Australia is when an individual has had a family history of breast cancer. This means if the individual has a parent, sibling or off-spring who has suffered from breast cancer, they are more at risk of developing breast cancer in their life-span. This is particularly so if more than a single first-degree relative has suffered from the disease.
According to research results, two genes have been found to be responsible for some of the familial cases of the disease. The two genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2 and it is known that around one in 200 women are carriers of these genes. Having one of the two genes puts the woman at risk of developing breast cancer, but it does not mean that the individual definitely will have breast cancer.
– Radiation: Exposure to high doses of ionizing, electrically charging or radiation has been proven to increase cancer risk. This exposure especially can affect Australian women younger than thirty years. Chemicals used in factories and on farms and chemicals in everyday household products for example, may cause breast cancer. Breast cancer rates are increasing in areas of Australia undergoing rapid industrial advancements.
– Hormone Growth: Researchers believe that individuals who are more exposed to oestrogen are more susceptible to breast cancer. Oestrogen refers to a female hormone manufactured by the ovaries. This particular hormone instructs cell to divide and the more this division takes place, the more abnormal the cells become. As a result, it can pose a dangerous opportunity for cells to turn into cancerous cells. This hormone is known to increase the count of cells in the breast during menstruation.
– Diet and Eating Habits: Diets with high amounts of fat are known to contribute to breast cancer by raising oestrogen levels in the body. In this context, breast cancer is more common in Australians whose breasts have been exposed to oestrogen for longer durations.
In addition, the risk of developing breast cancer after menopause is increased if the person is obese. Getting less than 150 minutes of exercise per week also increases the risk. Other factors that could increase the risk of developing cancer, include the level of alcohol consumption and a high fat diet.
Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
There are three tests involved in the diagnosis of the breast cancer in Australia.
1) A clinical examination of the breasts: Having your breasts examined by a health professional is the first step of diagnosis. This normally stems of a self-check that is conducted with noticeable signs of breast cancer. A clinical examination can indicate if there is any lumps that may be cancerous.
2) Imaging tests, such as ultrasound or mammograms: Once signs of breast cancer are detected through a clinical examination, your health professional will advise for imaging tests to be able to examine any lumps that have been found.
3) Biopsy: A biopsy which involves obtaining a sample of the tissue from the breasts to enable microscopic examination can be used to diagnose breast cancer.
4) Other Tests: tests such as as bone scans or blood tests, may be undertaken if the symptoms indicate that the cancer may have spread beyond the breast area. In certain cases, it may be necessary to undergo MRI scans to determine the extent of the disease.
1. Expenditure on breast cancer: https://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6442454646
2. Cancer Council breast cancer: http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/breast-cancer.html
4. Causes of breast cancer: http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/subtopic/causes-breast-cancer
5. Types of breast cancer: http://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-types/breast-cancer
6. Symptoms of breast cancer: http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/subtopic/symptoms-breast-cancer
7. Types of breast cancer: https://www.bcna.org.au/about-breast-cancer/types-breast-cancer