What Is Breast Cancer?

Published by Dr Gigi on

Breast Anatomy

There are different kinds of cells in the breast, they constitute the 3 main parts of the breast namely:

a. Lobules: These are the glands that produce milk. It is only present in women and functional in women who have been pregnant or breast feeding.

b.  Ducts: These are a network of interconnected channels that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple.

c. Connective tissue: It mostly consists of fibrous and fatty tissue that provide support to the breast.

The breast has blood vessels and nerves that provides it with  nourishment and sensation. Breast cancer cells can spread through the blood vessels and lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

Size of the breast is determined by the amount of fat in the breast. Every woman regardless of the breast size, has the same number of lobes and functional tissues in the breast.


What Is Breast Cancer?

Normally, cells in the body divide in a controlled manner to form new cells. However, when there is a mutation in the genes, it results in abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells. This is what happens in breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a disease where the cells in the breast grow abnormally. It is considered malignant as they can grow into the surrounding tissues and spread to other areas. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in women worldwide.

It can occur in both women and men, however, it is relatively more common in women.

Not all growth or lumps in the breast are cancerous. Some growths are benign, are not life threatening and will not invade other structures around it. Some however, can increase an individual’s risk of breast cancer. This means that you should see your doctor if you notice any lump or changes in your breast.

The type of cancer depends on the type of cells that turn into cancer.

How Common Is Breast Cancer In Developing Countries

According to World Health Organization, every year about 1.38 million people are diagnosed with breast cancer globally. It is the most common cancer in women worldwide. However, in developing countries, the number of new cases being diagnosed yearly is on the rise. This is thought to be as a result of people in these countries adopting western and urban lifestyle and increase in life expectancy.

It is estimated that majority of deaths from breast cancer yearly occur in developing countries; 269,000 deaths every year. Reasons for this include, poor health infrastructures, lack of awareness, late diagnosis and inability to afford screening tests. As a result, many more die undiagnosed.

In Nigeria: 

About 38,800 Nigerian women die each year from cancer and breast cancer is the major cause, accounting for 34.2% of these deaths.

WHO reports that about 13,269 Nigerian women die from breast cancer every year.

Each year about 27,304 Nigerian women are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Signs and symptoms

There are no symptoms specific to breast cancer. An individual may have no symptoms at all and symptoms may differ depending on the type. Some of the symptoms include

  • Pain in the breast
  • Lump: New lump in the breast or armpit.
  • Breast skin dimpling or irritation
  • Breast skin changes; scaling, flaking, scaling or ulceration of skin
  • Nipple inversion
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Distortion in breast shape and size
  • Bloody or pus discharge from the nipple

These symptoms do not confirm the presence of breast cancer, however, you need to see your doctor for further evaluation if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

How Does Breast Cancer Spread?

Breast cancer cells spread through blood or lymphatic system to reach other parts of the body. The lymph system is a network of lymph vessels that carry fluid (lymph), tissue waste product, immune cells and other tissue proteins.

In breast cancer, lymph may carry cancer cells to other parts of the body via the lymph nodes under the arm (axillary nodes), nodes inside the chest and breast bone and lymph nodes around the shoulder.

Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer

The first step is usually a physical examination. The doctor will perform a comprehensive breast exam and may request for further diagnostic tests and exams.

Tests that can help diagnose breast cancer include:

  1. Mammogram: this is an X-ray imaging of the breast to look for signs of cancer such as small white spots (calcifications), masses or lumps. People with breast implants can and should get mammograms although the implants may make it difficult to see clearly, so it will require thorough examination.
  2. Ultrasound: This uses sound waves to create visual images of the breast. Unlike mammogram, ultrasound does not expose a person to radiation.
  3. Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging: This imaging produces detailed pictures of the breast using a combination of magnets and radio waves. It is often done as a follow up to mammogram in people who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  4. Breast Biopsy: This is usually done after other tests indicate the presence of a breast mass or cancer. During this test, the doctor may use a needle or make an incision (small cut in the skin) to obtain cells from the suspicious mass. It is often under performed under ultrasound guidance. There are several types of breast biopsies.

Breast Cancer Treatment 

The size, stage of the cancer and extent of invasion all determine the treatment options available to a person. However, surgery is a common treatment for breast cancer with or without additional treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.

Categories: A-Z HealthMenWomen

Dr Gigi

Dr Gigi is a medical doctor, an avid researcher and founder of HeLP. She is a healthy life enthusiast. She is passionate about finding better and healthier alternatives and helping to improve people's quality of life. She started Healthy Life Pantry (HeLP) with aims to provide simplified research based and proven health information, delivered by seasoned health care professionals.

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