The term “breast cancer” refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. During a woman’s reproductive period (approximately between 20 and 40 years old), the breast is affected by female hormones, whose levels vary with the menstrual cycle. This can cause the breast to become tender, hard, or lumpy, especially during the premenstrual phase. When a woman enters her thirties, the milk glands and ducts in her breast become smaller and are replaced by fibrous and fatty tissue. Breast cancer commonly develops within these milk ducts and glands. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer too.

Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and then are carried to other parts of the body. The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid away from the breast. In the case of breast cancer, cancer cells can enter those lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes. 

Signs and Symptom

Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is an important part of your breast health. Although having regular screening tests for breast cancer is important, mammograms do not find every breast cancer. This means it’s also important for you to know what your breasts normally look and feels like, so you’ll be aware of any changes in your breasts.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone (Sometimes this can be a sign of breast cancer spread even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass (although most breast lumps are not cancer). A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be also soft, round, tender, or even painful.

Risk Factors

Certain breast cancer risk factors are related to personal behaviors, such as diet and physical activity. Other lifestyle-related risk factors include decisions about having children and taking medicines that contain hormones.

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Not having children -Women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall. Having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at a young age reduces breast cancer risk.
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Birth control- some birth control methods use hormones, which might increase breast cancer risk such as oral contraceptive, birth control shots and birth control implants.
  • Age and sex
  • Family history- Certain genes have been identified and may be associated with the occurring of breast cancer, two of which are BRCA1 and BRCA2. A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is greatly increased if she inherits an abnormal form of BRCA1 or BRCA2.
  • Starting menstrual period early- Women who have had more menstrual cycles because they started menstruating early (especially before age 12) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk may be due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
  • Radiation exposure- if you have received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adults, your risk of breast cancer is increased.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapyWomen who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause has an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer decreases when women stop taking these medications.