“Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body” (Carlson et al., 2009). Cancerous cells are also referred to as malignant cells. “Cells act as the building blocks of organisms” (Carlson et al., 2009). Under normal circumstances, cells will undergo cell division depending on the body’s needs, and then die once their function ends.
In addition, malignant cells divide very fast and sometimes fail to die. Cancer develops in different tissues and organs of the body. Cancerous cells have the characteristic of spreading from their source to other parts of the body (invasive). Cancerous cells that remain at their source are said to be noninvasive. The breast is one common organ that cancer affects. Breast cancer occurs in two main categories (Carlson, et al., 2009). Ductal malignancy: this is the most common type of cancer.
This type of breast cancer manifests itself in the tubes/ducts which form the channel for transporting milk from the breast to the nipple. “Lobular carcinoma: this type of cancer usually begins in the milk producing regions of the breast (lobules)” (Breast cancer, 2011). Rarely does cancer develop from other parts of the breast. “Breast cancer is known to occur in invasive or noninvasive form” (Breast cancer 2011). Thus, cancerous cells in the breast may metastasize to other parts of the breast from their source.
The prevalence and causes of cancer vary. “Cancer biologists have discovered that most breast carcinomas are sensitive to the hormone estrogen” (Breast cancer, 2011). The hormone causes the cancerous cells to grow. The breast cancer cells that respond to estrogen have estrogen receptors on their surfaces (Breast cancer, 2011).
Cancer biologists refer to these estrogen receptor possessing breast cancer cells as receptor-positive/EP-positive cancer cells. Scientists have discovered a certain gene called HER2 that helps breast cancer cells to multiply and repair themselves. It has also been noted that women with this type of gene have a severe breast cancer than their female counterparts who lack it.
In addition, HER2 bearers have a higher risk of breast cancer reoccurrence. Generally, chances of developing cancer increase with age. The older one becomes, the higher the risk. Women above 50 years have advanced breast cancer cases. Women are twice more likely to develop breast cancer than men. Family history plays a central role in dictating the chances of someone developing breast cancer.
Persons whose close relatives had ovarian, uterine, breast or colon cancer are at a high-risk of developing breast cancer. Scientists have also discovered that women who experience very early periods (before the age of 12), and those who continue to experience periods through menopause (after age 55) have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Moreover, excessive alcohol (for adults) and radiation therapy around the chest area in children present a risk of developing breast cancer.
Women who have received hormone replacement therapy with estrogen and those that used diethylstilbestrol (DES) are at a higher risk. Child birth has also been found to have an effect on breast cancer. Bearing several children and at an early age, reduces the risk. On the other hand, women who bear children after the age of 30 or those who do not bear children at all poses a great risk of developing breast cancer (Giuliano et al. 2011).
Breast cancer at an early stage does not present any symptoms (Hayes, 2007). That is why experts encourage women to go for regular checkups. However, after it has progressed it may present the following symptoms. A hard lump in the breast or armpit that does not induce pain is an indicator of breast cancer.
The lump has uneven edges. Change in the appearance (size and shape) of the nipple may be another indicator. The nipple may show some reddening, dimpling or puckering. The nipple may also produce a discharge. The fluid could be bloody, clear, and yellow or appear like pus. “Symptoms of advanced breast cancer are bone pain, breast pain and discomfort, skin ulcers, weight loss and swelling of one arm next to the breast with cancer” (Breast cancer, 2011).
The treatment of cancer depends on the type, stage, sensitivity to certain hormones or whether the cancer over expresses HER2/neu gene (Carlson et al., 2009). Doctors usually conduct certain tests before deciding the type of treatment to give. Such tests include breast MRI, biopsy, ultrasound, mammography, sentinel lymph node biopsy or CT/PET scans. Three options may be employed. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy (to kill cancer cells) and surgery to remove the cancerous tissue (could be lumpectomy or mastectomy).
Hormone therapy may be prescribed to women with ER positive breast cancer to inhibit certain hormones that cause uncontrolled cell division. Newer strategies include biologic/targeted therapy and immunotherapy (Carlson et al., 2009). “In targeted therapy, anticancer drugs are used to recognize and inhibit certain changes in cells that may lead to cancer” (Breast cancer, 2009). Immunotherapy utilizes activated immune system cells to treat cancer cells. More research is being carried out to shade more light on the use of immunotherapy.
Breast Cancer (2009). Breast Cancer. Retrieved 8 March 2012 from http://health.allrefer.com/health/breast-cancer-treatment.html.
Breast Cancer (2011). Breast Cancer. Retrieved 8 March 2012 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001911/.
Carlson, R. et al. (2009). Breast Cancer: Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Journal of Comprehensive Cancer Network, 7(2), 122-92.
Giuliano, A. et al. (2011). Axillary Dissection vs no Axillary Dissection in Women with Invasive Breast Cancer and Sentinel Node Metastasis: A Randomized Controll Trial. Journal of the American Association (JAMA), 305(6), 569-75.
Hayes, D. (2007). Clinical Practice: Folow-up of Patients with Early Breast Cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine, 356(24), 2505-13.