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Breast Cancer Process

D'Amore Zeno

Cindy Bunker

BIOL 101, Human Biology

Breast Cancer Process

Many people in the world know at least one person that has been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a horrible disease that affects over 12 million people each year. Breast cancer, the disease process to be discussed in the following pages, is the second most common cancer in women, followed by skin cancer ("What is Breast Cancer?," Sept 2017). It begins when cells in the breast start to grow out of control, and eventually form a tumor, which can be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Breast cancer can affect the lymphatic system when the cancer cells enter the blood stream. It can also spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs and liver ("Breast cancer," n.d.). Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12%. Consequently, there is a 1 in 8 chance one will develop breast cancer ("How Common…," Jan 2018).


Breast cancer is possible in men and women, but it is most prevalent in women. Risk factors include getting older, having several close family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, early age at first period, alcohol intake, using the contraceptive pill, and not having children or having children after the age of 30 ("Risks and causes…," July 2014). While breast cancer can start in different parts of the breast, it typically forms in the ducts that carry milk to the nipples; it can also start in the glands where milk is made. Some other breast cancers begin in the tissues of the breast and are called sarcomas and lymphomas, but are not usually thought of as breast cancers. Many types of breast cancers can be found as a lump, but most can be found on screening mammograms, which use low-energy x-rays to examine the breasts for diagnosis. There are sometimes no symptoms with breast cancer, so mammograms are helpful in detecting cancers at an earlier stage, before they can be felt or symptoms start to appear. ("Where breast cancer starts," Sept 2017). According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and are carried to other parts of the body. There are five stages of breast cancer, ranging from a scale of 0 to IV. According to, cancer stage is based on these characteristics: the size of the cancer, whether the cancer is invasive or non-invasive, whether cancer is in the lymph nodes, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body beyond the breast. Stage 0 is a non-invasive breast cancer; there is no evidence of cancer cells breaking out of the breast. Stage I is when it becomes invasive breast cancer. This is divided into subcategories, IA and IB. IA is when the tumor measures up to two centimeters and the cancer has not spread outside the breast. Stage IB is when there is no tumor in the breast, but small groups of cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, or the is a tumor in the breast no larger than 2 centimeters and small groups of cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Stage II is also divided into subcategories, IIA and IIB. Stage IIA is invasive breast cancer in which no tumor is found in the breast but cancer is found in one to three axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breast bone, the tumor measures two centimeters or less and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes, or the tumor is larger than two and less than five centimeters and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes. Stage IIB is when the tumor is larger than two and less than five centimeters and small groups of cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, the tumor is larger than two and less than five centimeters and cancer has spread to one to three axillary or near the breastbone lymph nodes or the tumor is larger than five centimeters but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes. Stage III is split into three subcategories, IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC. Stage IIIA is when either no tumor or any sized tumor is found in the breast and cancer is found in four to nine axillary lymph nodes, as well as other symptoms. Stage IIIB is when the tumor may be any size and has spread significantly with swelling and may have spread to up to nine axillary lymph nodes or to lymph nodes near the breastbone. Inflammatory breast cancer is considered at least stage IIIB.  Stage IV describes when the cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs of the body, like the lungs, skin, bones, liver or brain. Stage IIIC is similar in characteristics to stages IIIA and IIIB ("Breast Cancer Stages," Feb 2018).


When changes are found in breasts, they are thoroughly investigated with many tests from your doctor. Initial tests may include: examination of breasts and armpits, mammogram, and/or ultrasound. If more testing is needed, the following procedures may be used: fine needle aspiration, core biopsy, open biopsy, hormone tests, blood tests, bone scans, chest x-rays or a ductogram. Changes in breasts are typically diagnosed as non-cancerous. However, if tests seem to point towards positive for cancer, doctors will refer their patients to a specialist who can inform them about treatment options and form a treatment plan. While there are sometimes no symptoms, there are a few symptoms to watch out for. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless, hard mass, but can also be tender and soft. Symptoms also include: swelling of all or part of a breast, skin irritation, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin, and nipple discharge ("Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms," Sept. 2017).


There are a variety of different ways to treat breast cancer depending on its type and stage. Many women tend to get more than one treatment. Treatments include local and systematic treatments. Local treatments treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body, such as surgery and radiation therapy. On the other hand, systematic treatments are drugs that can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body; they can be taken by mouth or put directly into the bloodstream. Systematic treatments include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.  Several factors go into which type of treatment is best: whether or not menopause has started, the type of breast cancer, the size of the breast tumor in relation to the breast, the stage of the cancer, the grade of the cancer cells, the results of tests on the cancer cells, and the woman's age, general health, and personal preferences ("Breast cancer," July 2014).


Breast cancer can affect millions of people, both men and women. There are many symptoms to be watchful of, although the symptoms are not always there. Some risk factors include using the contraceptive pill and not having children or having children after 30. There are five stages, and each stage can have a different treatment; either local or systematic. Although cancer is a horrendous and terrifying disease, there are treatments to get rid of it. At the time the American Cancer Society's article on breast cancer was writen, there are 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.


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Department of Health & Human Services. (2014, July 31). Breast cancer. Retrieved March 02,   2018, from

How Common Is Breast Cancer? (2018, January 4). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

How Does Breast Cancer Start? (2017, September 21). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

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