Breast Cancer Awareness Month

If you or a loved one have received a diagnosis of breast cancer, it is essential to understand some basic facts: What is breast cancer and how does it occur?

Here you can learn how breast cancer develops, how many people suffer from the condition and what are the factors that can increase the risk of getting it. You can also get more information about the signs and symptoms that should be monitored and how to manage your fears about breast cancer.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of breast cells. To better understand breast cancer, we must understand how any cancer develops.

Cancer is the result of mutations, or abnormal changes, in the genes that regulate the growth of cells and keep them healthy. Genes are found in the nucleus of cells, which acts as the "control room" of each cell. Normally, the body's cells are renewed by a specific process called cell growth: new and healthy cells take the place of old cells that die. But with the passage of time, mutations can "activate" certain genes and "deactivate" others in a cell. The modified cell acquires the ability to divide without any control or order, so it produces more equal cells and generates a tumor.

A tumor can be benign (not dangerous to health) or malignant (potentially dangerous). Benign tumors are not considered cancerous: their cells have an almost normal appearance, grow slowly and do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous. If left unchecked, malignant cells can spread beyond the original tumor to other parts of the body.

The term "breast cancer" refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from breast cells. Generally, breast cancer originates in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands, or in the ducts, which are the pathways that transport milk from the lobules to the nipple. Less frequently, breast cancer can originate in stromal tissues, which include fatty and fibrous connective tissues in the breast.

Over time, cancer cells can invade the surrounding healthy breast tissue and reach the lymph nodes (small organs that remove foreign substances from the body) of the armpits. If the cancer cells reach the lymph nodes, they get an access door to other parts of the body. Breast cancer stages refer to how far the cancer cells have spread beyond the original tumor (see the Breast Cancer Stages table for more information).

Breast cancer is always caused by a genetic abnormality (an "error" in the genetic material). However, only 5-10% of cases are the result of an inherited anomaly of the mother or father. In contrast, 85-90% of breast cancer cases have their origin in genetic abnormalities linked to the aging process and the "natural wear and tear" of life.

There are steps that everyone can take to keep their body as healthy as possible, such as following a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and exercising on a regular basis (learn what you can do to manage the factors of breast cancer risk). Although they may have some impact on the risk of breast cancer, they cannot eliminate the risk.

The fact that you develop breast cancer is neither your fault nor anyone else's. Feeling guilty or thinking that the disease appeared due to something you did or did another person is counterproductive.

Symptoms of breast cancer

At first, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. The package may be too small to be palpable or to cause unusual changes that you can detect on your own. Often, an abnormal area appears on a screening mammogram (x-ray of the breast), which leads to further analysis.

However, in some cases, the first indication of breast cancer is a recent lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. A painless, hard lump with irregular borders is more likely to be cancer. But sometimes cancerous lumps can be soft, soft and rounded. That is why it is essential that your doctor examine any suspicious aspect.

According to the American Cancer Association, any of the following unusual changes in the breast may be an indication of breast cancer:

Inflammation of the breast or part of it

Skin irritation or hole formation

Breast pain

Nipple pain or nipple inversion

Redness, peeling or thickening of the nipple or breast skin

Nipple discharge other than milk

A lump in the armpits

These changes may also be signs of less serious and non-cancerous conditions, such as an infection or a cyst. It is important that a doctor immediately check any changes in the breasts.


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