Breast cancer

learn more about breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, both in developed and undeveloped countries. 

Nevertheless, the majority of lumps that appear in the breast usually have a benign pathology.

The mammary gland is composed of lobules attached by conduits that end at the nipple. 

Breast cancer is produced when the cells that cover the conduits and lobules begin to grow in an abnormal fashion.

This disease develops due to genetic causes in only 8% of cases.

For this reason, early detection programmes and breast self-examinations are of vital importance for most women who are not suspected of developing breast cancer, given that these procedures can help diagnose the cancer as soon as possible and start treatment.

Imagen preview del infográfico sobre el cáncer de mama
Breast cancer and its treatment. [Infography only available in Spanish]
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Risk factors for breast cancer and the importance of early detection. [Video only available in Spanish]
Diagnostic techniques for normal breasts and 3D techniques for dense breasts. [Video only available in Spanish]

Causes

Although the causes of breast cancer are not exactly known, there are a number of risk factors associated with its onset:

  • Age: Most tumours appear after the age of 50.
  • Having two first-degree relatives (mother, sister, aunt) who have had breast cancer, when one of the relatives with this disease is male or if the cancer had been diagnosed before the age of 35.
  • Hereditary factors. Approximately 8% of cases are hereditary. Half of these cases are attributable to the mutation of two genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. In these cases, a genetic study is recommended.
  • Having the first pregnancy after the age of 30 or not having children.
  • Early menstruation (before the age of 12) or late menopause (after the age of 55). 
  • Experiencing benign breast diseases such as atypical proliferative lesions, atypical hyperplasia and fibrocystic mastopathy.
  • High fat intake, alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking and physical inactivity.

However, more than half of women with breast cancer have none of these risk factors, and women who have one or more of these risk factors do not develop the disease. Early detection systems are therefore of special importance.

Symptoms

It is very important to recognise the symptoms of breast cancer because, if any of them occur, you should visit a specialist in breast diseases.

The specialist will conduct an assessment and begin a deeper study, if appropriate.

The symptoms include the following:

  • A small lump or mass in the breast
  • Changes in the shape and volume of the breast
  • Nipple retraction and eczema
  • Secretion of blood from the nipple
  • If you feel pain in the breast, it is likely a benign lesion, but it can be breast cancer.
  • Changes in the breast skin, resembling orange peel.

Types

Breast cancer is produced when the cells that cover the conduits and lobules begin to grow in an abnormal fashion.

If the malignant cells proliferate in the lobules, the condition is known as lobular breast cancer; if they proliferate in the conducts, the condition is known as ductal breast cancer.

It is also important to know whether the cancer cells remain in the lobules or in the conduits; if they do, then the tumour is noninvasive or "in situ". If the tumour has started to grow and propagate beyond the conduit and lobule walls, the tumour is infiltrating or invasive, which has a poorer prognosis.

Dissemination

When the cancer cells grow and invade adjacent tissues, they can reach the lymphatic system or circulatory system, which disseminates the cells to other parts of the body, a condition known as metastasis.

Breast cancer metastasis can affect any part of the body but is preferentially located in the bones, lungs and liver.

Stages and survival

The classification by disease stage is performed to determine how far the disease has progressed. To this end, the necessary diagnostic tests are performed to obtain information on the size, location and infiltration of neighbouring structures, lymph nodes and distant organs.

The cancer stage is one of the most important factors for predicting the prognosis and survival of patients with this disease.

Depending on the type of cancer, its state and location in the body, your physician will define the most appropriate treatment.

> Learn more about the Clínica's breast cancer treatment

After surgery, the objective for specialists is to help the patient reincorporate herself into everyday life as quickly as possible.

To achieve this, they will indicate a number of self-care instructions that the patient should learn and follow at home.

Nurses at the Clínica’s Breast Disease Area teach patients these self-care instructions and answer all questions that may arise.

> Know more about care instructions after the surgery [SP]

Radiation therapy, as a complementary treatment after breast surgery, has been shown to be highly effective for controlling this disease.

It is administered in a partial manner when the disease is localised, in order to limit the radiation to the smallest possible area. Occasionally, when the cancer is more advanced, radiation therapy needs to be performed on a more extensive area.

It is advisable that patients follow a number of self-care instructions and recommendations in order to reduce the adverse effects and discomfort that can appear after undergoing this treatment.

Before establishing each patient's most appropriate treatment, which will be personalised, it is essential to determine whether the disease has disseminated or not".

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