If I Have Breast Cancer

Here at Cancer Pro, we continue to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in this edition of our weekly blog, we are going to talk about the various types of breast cancer and how your doctor would know if you have breast cancer.

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is always named based on the place where it starts. So even if breast cancer spreads to the bones or any other part of the body, it is still called breast cancer. It usually forms as a tumour and is usually felt as a lump on the breast.

The different forms of Breast Cancer

There are many types of breast cancer. Some of which are very rare. But, here are the medical names for the most common types of breast cancer along with a brief description of each.

Ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS (carcinoma is another name for cancer)

DCIS is very early breast cancer. In DCIS, the cancer cells are found only inside the milk ducts. (Ducts are the tiny tubes that carry milk to the nipple). The cancer cells have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the nearby breast tissue, and so in this instance, nearly all women with DCIS can be cured.

Invasive breast cancer

Invasive breast cancer means cancer has grown out of the place it started and began to invade nearby breast tissue. These cancers might have also spread to other parts of the body. Most invasive breast cancers are one of these types:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC): This is the most common type of breast cancer. It starts in a milk duct of the breast and grows through the wall of the duct into the nearby breast tissue.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): This type of cancer starts in the milk glands, called lobules, and grows into the nearby breast tissue.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)

Many times there is no lump felt with IBC. IBC makes the skin of the breast look red and feel warm. The skin can also look thick and pitted – kind of like an orange peel. The breast may get bigger, harder, tender, or itchy.

And, because there is no lump, IBC may not show up on a mammogram. This makes it harder to find IBC early. It’s more likely to have spread and is more difficult to cure than either invasive ductal or lobular cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)

TNBC is invasive breast cancer that certain types of treatment won’t work on. It is called triple-negative because the cancer cells are missing three kinds of proteins that breast cancers are tested for.

Which, include Estrogen and progesterone receptors (proteins that help cells respond to hormones), and another protein called HER2 (a protein that other types of breast cancer make too much of).

When a breast cancer test shows a negative for all three of these proteins, it means cancer might be harder to treat.

How does the doctor know if I have breast cancer?

The doctor will start by asking you questions about your health and will do a physical exam. A breast exam is done to look for changes in the nipples or the skin of your breasts.

The doctor will also check the lymph nodes under your arm and above your collarbone. Swollen or hard lymph nodes might mean breast cancer has spread there.

If signs are pointing to breast cancer, more tests will be done. Some of the tests you may need, include

Mammogram: This is an x-ray of the breast. Mammograms are mostly used to find breast cancer early. But another mammogram might be done to look more closely at the breast problem you might have.

MRI scan: MRIs use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to make detailed pictures. MRIs can be used to learn more about the size of the cancer and look for other tumours in the breast.

Breast ultrasound: For this test, a small wand is moved around on your skin. It gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off tissues. The echoes are made into a picture that you can see on a computer screen.

Nipple discharge exam: If you have fluid coming from your nipple, some of it may be sent to a lab. There, it will be checked to see if there are cancer cells in it.

If breast cancer is found, other tests, such as a CT (CAT) scan, PET scan, or bone scan might be done to look for cancer spread. But not all women with breast cancer need these tests.

About Cancer Pro

Cancer Pro is the voice of the worlds cancer physicians and oncology professionals in Malaysia and is the trusted compassionate, resource for people with cancer, their families and caregivers. For more information regarding Breast Cancer, along with the various treatments available, please visit www. cancer-pro.com.

(With thanks to the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org)