Breast changes in a patient must be examined
by a physician as soon as possible. For a questionable lump,
the physician will order tests to determine if it is either
a malignant breast tumor or a benign breast condition.
It is now estimated that over 211,000 women will be diagnosed with a malignant breast tumor in a year’s time.
How Breast Cancer Begins
cancer begins when cells start growing out of control, no
longer normally dividing to repair old or injured cells, but
replacing the normal cells in an area of the body with their
abnormal ones. These out-of-control cells reproduce more abnormal
cells, which may later travel to other parts of the body and
start replacing the normal cells in that region also (called
a metastasis). It has now been determined that cancerous cells
have damaged DNA, whether inherited from a relative or caused
by something in the person’s environment. This damaged
DNA affects the genes called “oncogenes” which
are responsible for cell division, making them go into abnormal
cell production. Usually, these cancerous cells form a tumor -- in this case, a malignant breast tumor.
How Breast Cancer Grows
Together with the fatty tissue, each breast is divided into
15 to 20 sections (called lobes) which are then further divided
into lobules. Because the lobes and lobules are connected
by thin tubes called ducts, cancer in these ducts is called
ductal cancer and is the most common type of malignant breast
tumor (about 75% of all breast cancers are ductal carcinomas).
Cancer that develops in the lobes or lobules is called lobular
carcinoma. There are several other types of breast cancer
that are not so common. One type, inflammatory breast cancer,
is characterized by changes in the skin of the breast and
is particularly aggressive.
Diagnosing Breast Cancer
After a biopsy and a sample of tissue is sent to a pathologist,
he examines it under a microscope and is able to tell what
type of breast tumor it is, whether it is malignant or benign.
If it is determined to be of the malignant type, the pathologist
will also establish whether it is the invasive type that will
move into the lymph nodes or into other organs and areas of
the body. This information is crucial in the determination
of treatment for the patient.
A breast tumor may also be determined to be benign, not malignant.
This is a very common condition with many different forms,
which physicians often explain. Because this condition will
not spread and become life-threatening, surgery may not be
indicated. The doctor will often ask the patient to return,
for a follow-up appointment only, in a few months.