What is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is said to be present when cells in the breasts start to multiply uncontrollably. It is the most common form of female cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

Who gets Breast Cancer?

There are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Women over the age of 50 are most at risk of getting this type of cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • A family history of either breast or ovarian cancer
  • Previous treatment with radiation therapy
  • The presence of genetic mutations such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • Extended exposure to hormones. This means women who started menstruating before the age of 12 and those who started menopause after the age of 55 are at increased risk
  • Dense breast tissue
  • An unhealthy lifestyle – drinking, smoking, lack of exercise and obesity
  • Hormone replacement therapy that includes both oestrogen and progesterone taken for more than five years during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer
  • A first pregnancy after 30 years of age, never breastfeeding a baby and no full-term pregnancies also raises breast cancer risk
  • Hormone-containing birth control methods such as birth control pills, shots, implants, intrauterine devices (IUDS), skin patches and vaginal rings add to the risk

Common types of Breast Cancer

Invasive breast cancer is a cancer which begins in one area and spreads into other areas of the breast or even to other parts of the body. The two most common types are:

  • Infiltrating (invasive) Ductal Carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer and is responsible for 70% to 80% of all breast cancer cases. It starts in a milk duct and spreads into the surrounding breast tissue.
  • Infiltrating (invasive) Lobular Carcinoma is cancer that originates in the milk-producing glands (lobules) from where it can spread to other parts of the breast and the body.

Non-invasive cancer is cancer which has not spread to any surrounding tissue and is generally not life threatening. But, if a patient has non-invasive cancer, it can increase the risk of developing an invasive cancer later in life.

  • Ductal Carcinoma in situ is cancer that starts in the milk ducts but has not spread to any surrounding tissue.
  • Lobular Carcinoma in situ is a non-invasive cancer that starts in the milk-producing glands.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Early warning signs of breast cancer are typically a lump or an area of thickened tissue in either the breast or armpit. However, it is important to note that not all breast lumps are cancerous.

Other symptoms include:

  • A change in the appearance of the breast
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Changes to the breast skin such as a rash, dimpling, redness or orange-like pitting of the skin
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Peeling, flaking, or scaling of the skin of the breast or nipple


After an examination of the breasts the oncologist will carry out different tests which could include a mammogram, an ultrasound, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a biopsy to determine if a patient has breast cancer.


Surgery is the go-to treatment for breast cancer. The surgery may involve removing the tumour or number of cancerous lymph nodes which is called a lumpectomy, or the entire breast is removed in what is known as a mastectomy.

Other common treatment options are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted cancer therapy and hormonal therapy.