Surviving with Breast Cancer

What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer

Abigail Morgan (Class Period 9)

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the uncontrolled development and dividing of the breast cells. When cells divide and grow, a genetic mutation may occur between the DNA in each cell’s nucleus. Cells with mutated DNA are able to continue dividing and produce more of the unhealthy cells. Together, the cells can create a tumor in the breast, benign or malignant. For it to be breast cancer, the tumor is malignant (cancerous) and can often spread to other parts of the body leading to extraneous damage and disease. In most cases, the breast cancer begin in lobules. The breast lobules are lobes in the breasts which are the glands responsible for producing milk. As well as the lobules themselves, the ducts and passages that lead the milk to the nippless are affected. In very few cases, the breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissue which is the fatty, connective tissue of the breasts.

When left untreated or undetected, the cancer can spread to the underarms, the lymph nodes, which filter foreign and dangerous substances that enter the body. When the breast cancer invades the lymph nodes, it then gives the cancer the ability to get to anywhere else in the body which increases risk of other cancers and tumors, and death. It is vital to detect breast cancer as soon as possible.

Breast cancer that starts in the ducts is called ductal carcinoma, and when it starts in the lobules, is called lobular carcinoma.

Symptoms and Effects on the Body

The following are symptoms of breast cancer, but some may just be symptoms of less serious conditions that are not cancers. Some of the changes that may occur to the breast may be:

  • Constant pain in one spot that does not go away

  • Redness, irritation, or thickening of the nipple and/or breast skin

  • Swelling of the breast or areas around it

  • Nipple pain

  • Nipple turning inward

  • Lump in underarm area

  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

    • Occurs without squeezing the nipple

    • Bloody or clear

    • Occurs only in one breast

  • Change of size or shape of breast

  • Puckering of skin

Cancer plays a toll on everybody with cancer, no matter what stage or type you have. Cancer and its treatments decreases physical skills, decreases or increases weight, cause fatigue, hair loss, weakness or loss of stamina, and is a continuous mental battle to all involved.

Breast cancer itself affects the body by attacking healthy cells and multiplying mutated cells, destroys the lymph nodes which decrease the function of controlling, maintaining, and detecting foreign substances to the body, can metastasize and cause cancer in other parts of the body, and ultimately shut down the body.

Susan G. Komen Foundation

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is an organization that has invested over $2.6 billion in funding for the research and cure of breast cancer. Not only do they provide support for all families battling the cancer, they have made a statistical improvment as well. Since the organization was founded 1982, the survival rate in women with early stage breast cancer has risen from 74% to 99%. This foundation has a mission and they won't stop until they complete it. "Komen for the Cure". Go donate to their site today or run in one of their local marathons!

What causes Breast Cancer?

No person should ever fault themselves for being diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer is always formed by the result of a genetic abnormality in response to the aging process of life. Only 5-10% of all breast cancers are from an abnormality inherited from a parent, the other 85-90% are from age. Experts are still in research to definitively determine what causes breast cancer as it is hard to explain why one person may develop it, but not another. There are a few risk factors that can impact the likelihood of contracting breast cancer, some controllable, but most uncontrollable.

The older a woman gets, the higher the risk they have for breast cancer as over 4/5 of all cases of breast cancer are in women aged 50 years and older (after they reach menopause).

Not by surprise, but women who have had breast cancer before are more likely to develop it again whether in or out of remission.

Physical traits of the breasts, like having dense breast tissue, increase the risk of getting breast cancer. Physical body traits, like obesity, may result in breast cancer because of the higher estrogen levels. The higher estrogen levels may also be shown in women who started having their periods early, or entered menopause later in life. Height is another physical trait which increases the likelihood of breast cancer if you are above or shorter than average height for women.

Women who inherit the BRCA1, BRCA2, and TP53 gene are linked to greater breast cancer risks. This is considered to be the only way breast cancer patients are linked to their cause by genetics.

Environmental factors such as radiation may effect the chances. Other risks may include certain jobs and their own exposures, hormone replacement therapy, alcohol consumption (females should not exceed one alcoholic beverage every day), and cosmetic implants.


Since there is no exact cause that has been determined for breast cancer, there are steps that people can take to help the body stay as healthy as it can but not eliminate the risk of the cancer. To maintain your body at optimum health, eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking, limit your alcohol intake, exercise on a daily basis, keep a healthy weight, and educate yourself about the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of breast cancer.

There are some suggested ways to prevent the spread of the cancer though. Both women and men should always take notice if there is an unusual lump forming and should always get regular physical exams to be checked and to take that time to ask any questions. Women should get mammograms, an x-ray picture of the breast, to check for breast cancer as they can detect the cancers even if you show no signs or symptoms. It is vital to catch the cancer before it spreads.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is diagnosed after getting a series of tests done after a normal mammogram. If something suspicious or abnormal appears on the regular mammogram such as a lump, more tests are ordered. Women are then often referred to a breast specialist or surgeon to then further make a diagnostic.

Breast ultrasounds are taken by a machine that uses sound waves to make a detailed picture of inside the breasts, called sonograms. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a body scan to use magnets linked to a computer to take detailed pictures of the inside of the breast as well.

If there is a lump in the breast or an abnormal looking area of the breast that shows up on the screening mammogram, doctors and specialist can order a diagnostic mammogram which gives a very detailed picture (x-ray) of the breast.

If something is found in any type of picture or screening, a biopsy may be done to remove a tissue of fluid from the breast to be further investigated in a lab setting. Types of biopsies include core biopsy, open biopsy, or fine-needle aspiration.

Other tests include:

  • Breast ultrasounds are done to determine whether a lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled sac (cyst)

  • Ductal Lavage (Checks cells from milk ducts)

  • Sentinel Node Biopsy (Checks lymph nodes)

  • Breast Self-Exams

  • Lab Tests

By being diagnosed with breast cancer, there are then stages. Stages "grade" the cancer by how different they are from a normal cell, how large they are, how far it has spread, and the overall extent/progression of the cancer.


The treatment for breast cancer is different for each patient. It all depends on your age (treatment for young women can be dangerous as it can result in loss of fertility and/or early menopause), preference, other medical problems, your own lifestyle, gender, type of breast cancer, and the stage of the cancer.

There are a variety of different options a patient with breast cancer has fro treatment. Depending on where and how severe it is, local therapy may be used to go after a designated point in the breast to remove the cancer and ensure that it does not come back. This is done through surgery and radiation. Radiation therapy uses high X-rays to kill the cancer cells that may be left in or around the breast after surgery.

Adjuvant therapy, commonly known as systemic therapy, is used to get rid of the cancer cells that may have spread from the breast to any other parts of the body. Types of this therapy include:

  • Hormone therapy (Estrogen or progesteron to increase cell growth to attach to hormone receptors)

  • Chemotherapy (Uses drugs to kill or decrease the functions of the cancer cells, most common treatment for breast cancer)

  • Targeted Therapy (Drug that kills a specific type of molecule, can be harmful to healthy cells)

Statistics and Commonalities within Breast Cancer Patients

Among all American women, breast cancer is the most common cancer (except for skin cancers) as nearly 12% of all women in the United States will develop the cancer.

Non-Hispanic whites and Non-Hispanic blacks are the most common race and ethnicities for breast cancer incidents in the US. Blacks have the highest mortality rate while Asian and Pacific Islander women have the lowest of developing the cancer and death rates from it.

All women are at risk for breast cancer and it is the leading cause of cancer death (out of the various types of cancer) among women that are ages 20-59. As a women gets older, her chances of developing breast cancer increase.

In the year of 2016 alone, a predicted 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected and about 61,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer are estimated. In total, around 2.8 million women are to be recorded in the US for history, current treatment, and soon to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Other statistics:

  • In 2013, 30% of all new cancer cases in women were breast cancer

  • About 85% of all women with breast cancer, have no family history or relatives that once had breast cancer

  • Death rates from breast cancer have been continuously decreasing since 1989

  • In the US, New Hampshire and Washington (state) have the highest rate of invasive breast cancer in women and Mississippi has the highest mortality rate from women with breast cancer

  • Worldwide, western Europe, North America, Northern Europe, and Australia have the highest rates for breast cancer patients

  • In the past 30 years, the rate for breast cancer in men has increased slightly