What Is Breast Cancer? Symptoms and Risk Factors of Breast Cancer and Treatment

Breast cancer is a complex disease that affects millions of women worldwide. While it can be overwhelming and frightening, there are many resources available to support those who are affected by the disease.

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Breast cancer is a complex and often misunderstood disease. It affects millions of women worldwide, with an estimated 2.3 million new cases diagnosed each year. Despite advances in medical research and technology, breast cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of breast cancer, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention strategies. It is hoped that this information will help women and their loved ones better understand this disease and empower them to take charge of their health.

Definition of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the breast. It can occur in both men and women, but it is much more common in women. Breast cancer typically begins in the milk-producing ducts or the lobules, which are the glands that produce milk. When abnormal cells grow out of control and form a lump or mass, this is known as a tumor. Not all breast tumors are cancerous, but those that are can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of breast cancer is not yet fully understood, but there are several factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease. Some of these risk factors include:

Gender: Breast cancer is much more common in women than in men.

  • Age: The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman gets older.
  • Family history: Women who have a close relative (such as a mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer are at a higher risk.
  • Genetics: Certain gene mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2) can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Hormonal factors: Women who have been exposed to high levels of estrogen (such as those who started menstruating early or entered menopause late) have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Lifestyle factors: Factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and a lack of physical activity can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

The symptoms of breast cancer can vary from person to person, but some of the most common signs include:

A lump or mass in the breast or armpit

Swelling or thickening of the breast tissue

Changes in the size or shape of the breast

Skin irritation or dimpling

Nipple changes, such as inversion, discharge, or redness

Breast pain or tenderness

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your healthcare provider for further evaluation. Your healthcare provider may perform a physical exam, order imaging tests (such as a mammogram or ultrasound), or perform a biopsy (a procedure to remove a sample of breast tissue for testing).

Stages of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is typically classified into four stages, which are based on the size and spread of the tumor. The stages include:

  • Stage 0: Stage 0, also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), refers to abnormal cells in the milk ducts that have not spread outside of the ducts.
  • Stage I: The tumor is small (less than 2 centimeters) and has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage II: The tumor is larger (2-5 centimeters) and may or may not have spread to thelymph nodes.
  • Stage III: The tumor is larger and has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, or lungs.

Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

There are several treatment options available for breast cancer, including:

  • Surgery: This involves removing the tumor and surrounding tissue. Depending on the stage of the cancer, surgery may also involve removing some or all of the breast tissue.
  • Radiation therapy: This involves using high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: This involves using drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery.
  • Hormone therapy: This involves using drugs to block the hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone) that can fuel the growth of certain types of breast cancer.
  • Targeted therapy: This involves using drugs that target specific proteins or genes that are involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells.

The type of treatment recommended will depend on the stage of the cancer, the location and size of the tumor, and other factors such as the patient’s age and overall health.

Side Effects of Treatment

While breast cancer treatment can be life-saving, it can also have side effects. These side effects can vary depending on the type of treatment, but may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Skin changes (such as dryness or redness)
  • Lymphedema (swelling in the arm or hand)
  • Cognitive changes (such as difficulty concentrating)

It is important to discuss potential side effects with your healthcare provider and develop a plan to manage them.

Coping with Breast Cancer

A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and emotional. It is important to seek support from loved ones, as well as from healthcare providers and support groups. Other coping strategies may include:

  • Taking care of your physical health through exercise and a healthy diet
  • Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation or yoga
  • Seeking out mental health support, such as therapy or counseling
  • Finding ways to stay engaged in activities that bring you joy

Prevention and Screening

While not all cases of breast cancer can be prevented, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk of developing the disease. These may include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding tobacco products
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Breastfeeding, if possible

Screening is also an important tool for early detection of breast cancer. Women should talk to their healthcare provider about when to start and how often to get mammograms or other imaging tests.

The Importance of Support and Resources

Breast cancer can be a challenging journey, but no one has to go through it alone. There are many resources available to support women and their loved ones, including:

  • Support groups and counseling services
  • Online communities and forums
  • Educational resources and advocacy organizations
  • Financial assistance programs

Looking to the Future

Breast cancer research continues to advance, with new treatments and technologies emerging all the time. It is hoped that continued research will lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life for those affected by breast cancer.


Breast cancer is a complex disease that affects millions of women worldwide. While it can be overwhelming and frightening, there are many resources available to support those who are affected by the disease. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for breast cancer, women and their loved ones can make informed decisions about their health and take steps to reduce their risk of developing the disease.


  • American Cancer Society. (2022). Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html
  • Breastcancer.org. (2022). Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.breastcancer.org/
  • National Breast Cancer Foundation. (2022). About Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness/
  • National Cancer Institute. (2022). Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast
  • World Health Organization. (2022). Breast Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/diagnosis-screening/breast-cancer/en/

Student, University of Dhaka

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