What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 214,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Women now face a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer at some point in their life.

The human breast is a gland that is composed of milk ducts, lobes, fatty tissue, and a network of lymphatic vessels. Cancerous tumors can develop in any part of the breast. These tumors can be detected through self-examination, mammograms or thermal imaging.

The majority of lumps discovered in the breast are cysts or fibroid masses. A lump that seems to be growing or does not move may be cancerous, or it may be caused by fibrocystic changes during the menstrual cycle. If a lump is discovered, a biopsy is required to determine if it is cancerous or benign. In addition to tumors, breast cancer can cause a yellow, bloody, or clear discharge from the nipple.

Many people think of breast cancer as being a single entity; however, there are many different types of the disease. Some types of breast cancer include the following:
Infiltrating ductal carcinoma - This form of breast cancer affects the lining of the milk ducts and invades the surrounding breast tissue. Approximately 80 percent of breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinoma.

Inflammatory carcinoma - In this type of cancer, a tumor arises in the lining of the milk duct. As it grows, it plugs the lymphatic and blood vessels and causes the skin to turn red. The breast is extremely sensitive to touch and looks as if there is an infection. This type of cancer is fast to spread. If the above symptoms occur, consult with a physician immediately.

Lobular carcinoma - This form of breast cancer affects the breast lobes and occasionally affects both breasts simultaneously. Lobular carcinoma is less common and accounts for about 9 percent of breast cancers.

Intraductal carcinoma in situ - This is a localized type of cancer in which cancerous cells grow within the breast ducts. This type of breast cancer generally does not invade other tissues.

Paget's disease of the nipple - Paget's disease occurs when cells from an underlying cancerous tumor migrate to the nipple. Symptoms of Paget's disease include itching, redness, and soreness of the nipple. Paget's disease always signals the presence of primary ductal carcinoma elsewhere in the breast tissue.

More aggressive forms of breast cancer include: Adenoid cystic carcinoma, malignant cytosarcoma phylliodes, medullary carcinoma, and tubular carcinoma. If changes in the breast occur, consult with a physician immediately.