Breast Cancer: Things You Need to Know

April 24, 2023
7 min read
Breast Cancer: Things You Need to Know

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. In the United States, it's the second leading cause of cancer death in women after skin cancer. Here's everything you need to know about breast cancer:

Breast Cancer: What Is It?

Breasts play a crucial role in a woman's reproductive system. They develop in phases throughout a woman's life—before birth, during puberty, and childbearing. Also, breasts change size and shape throughout the menstrual cycle and menopause.

Women who start their menstrual periods before age 12 or enter menopause after age 55 are at higher risk, especially those exposed to estrogen for an extended period.

Estrogens are a group of female sex hormones, AKA human carcinogens. Although they are essential for the body, exposure to these hormones for an extended period increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 264,000 women and 2,400 men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, this also means that about 42,000 women and 500 men die from breast cancer annually.

Breast Cancer: What Are the Types?

There are different types of breast cancer, which can be classified into two categories: invasive and noninvasive. Noninvasive breast cancer is also known as stage 0 cancer. While invasive cancer metastasizes and affects other parts of the breast, noninvasive cancer is limited to the primary tissue.

Types of breast cancer include:

In Situ Cancers

In situ or stage 0 cancer refers to precancerous cells that have not spread throughout the body. This condition is not cancer, and it may never become malignant.

  • __Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) __ DCIS is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast. It is considered the earliest form of breast cancer (stage 0) and is noninvasive. Ductal carcinoma in situ has a low risk of becoming invasive.

  • Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS) LCIS is a rare condition where abnormal cells develop in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Even though LCIS isn't true cancer, receiving this diagnosis means you're more likely to get breast cancer in the future.

Invasive Cancers

Invasive cancers are the types that have invaded other tissues and are growing beyond the original tumor site.

  • Invasive or Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), AKA infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is a type of breast cancer that initially appears in the milk ducts. If left untreated, IDC will spread to surrounding tissue and potentially to other areas through lymph nodes or the bloodstream.

  • Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) Invasive lobular carcinoma starts in the milk-producing glands. ILC is invasive cancer that originates in the breast but eventually spreads to other body parts. If left untreated, ILC may turn into metastatic breast cancer.

Breast Cancer: What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Not every individual experiences the same symptoms of breast cancer. Some people may not experience any signs or symptoms at all.

Although a tumor may be too small to detect through self-examination, a mammogram can still detect abnormalities. The most common sign of cancerous growth is usually the presence of a new lump that wasn't initially in place. However, not each of them indicates cancer.

The symptoms of breast cancer can vary depending on the type. Some signs may be more common than others. The most common breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Flaky skin in the nipple area
  • Changes in shape and size of the breast
  • Nipple secretes blood
  • Swelling on some parts of the breast
  • Discolored skin around the breast
  • Swelling of breast
  • Irritation around the breast

Although it can be breast cancer if you experience any of these symptoms, there are other explanations. For example, a benign cyst can cause pain or a lump in your breast.

Even so, consult your physician if you discover a lump or have other symptoms.

Breast Cancer: What Are the Stages?

The staging process for cancer involves determining the severity of the disease by examining how much cancer is present and where it has spread. Factors like tumor size and whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other body parts are the basis of this process.

Your doctor can carry out staging either before or after surgery. Staging before surgery is a clinical stage, while staging conducted after surgery is called the pathologic stage.

Here are the different stages of breast cancer:

1. Stage 0 Breast Cancer

Stage 0 cancers have not spread beyond the milk duct and are non-invasive. Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) is a very early cancer stage and is highly treatable. Without proper intervention, it can spread to the surrounding breast tissue.

2. Stage 1 Breast Cancer

In Stage 1 breast cancer, the cancer is evident though it has not spread, making this cancer stage highly treatable. Stage 1 is divided into two parts—Stage 1A and Stage 1B. The two differ in tumor size and whether cancer is present in the lymph nodes.

Stage 1A. The primary tumor measures about 2 centimeters (cm) or less in width. Cancer hasn't spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 1B. Cancerous cells are found around the lymph nodes. This stage could mean the tumor is smaller than 2 cm or there is no tumor present in the breast.

3. Stage 2 Breast Cancer

Stage 2 indicates that breast cancer is progressing. However, it hasn't spread to the breast or reached any lymph nodes. The order of treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer is typically chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy.

Stage 2 cancer also has two classifications:

Stage 2A. No actual tumor is associated with the cancerous cells, and cancer cells are present in fewer than four axillary lymph nodes.

Stage 2B. The tumor measures between 2 and 5 centimeters in diameter and has spread to no more than four axillary lymph nodes.

4. Stage 3 Breast Cancer

Stage 3 cancer indicates that the breast cancer has progressed to invade surrounding lymph nodes and muscles but hasn't reached distant organs. Even though this stage is considered advanced, effective medical treatments are becoming increasingly common.

Three groups comprise this stage: Stage 3A, Stage 3B, and Stage 3C.

Stage 3A. The tumor may vary in size. Cancer is detected in 4 to 9 lymph glands beneath the arm or the lymph glands close to the breastbone.

Stage 3B. In stage 3B, the tumor has metastasized to the breast or chest wall skin. The malignancy has caused swelling or deterioration of the skin.

Stage 3C. At least ten lymph nodes under the arms have cancer.

5. Stage 4 Breast Cancer (metastatic breast cancer)

Stage IV cancers have metastasized beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other nearby body parts. The most common places for breast cancer to spread are the bones, liver, and lungs. It may also extend to the brain or other organs.

Breast Cancer: How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination and a separate examination of the breasts. This process is vital to determine whether your symptoms are due to breast cancer or a less severe breast ailment. To determine what is causing the symptoms precisely, they could also ask for one or more diagnostic tests.

To identify breast cancer, your doctor may require the following tests:


A mammogram can check any lumps or suspicious spots on your breasts. It is an imaging test that many women ages 40 and older get annually. If your doctor sees something unusual on the mammogram, they may request additional tests.


A breast ultrasound is a safe and painless test that uses sound waves to create an image of the tissues deep inside your breast. Your doctor can tell the difference between a cyst and a solid mass with the help of an ultrasound.

Your doctor can also recommend a breast biopsy or an MRI.

Breast Cancer: What Are the Treatment Options?

What type of treatment you will get depends significantly on the stage of your breast cancer, the extent of its metastasis, and the tumor size. After evaluating the size, stage, and grade of breast cancer, you can speak with your doctor to discuss your options for treatment. The grade will indicate the likelihood of cancer developing and spreading.

While the most popular form of treatment for breast cancer is surgery. Patients also opt for other treatment options such as:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormone therapy

Get Tested for Breast Cancer Today

Early detection is key to a full recovery. If you or someone you know suspects breast cancer symptoms, consult a doctor immediately. Get tested today!

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