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In this section, you or a loved one can find out more about medical treatments, research studies and practical information about breast cancer. Read on to find answers to some of your questions as well as links to other information. Being informed is an important first step towards becoming an active decision-maker in your care plan.
Breast cancer is a cancer that originates in the cells of the breast. Before going into detail about this particular type of cancer, it is important to understand the basics. The body is made up of millions of cells. Each cell contains genes that are basically a set of instructions that tell the cell how to grow, work, reproduce and die. Cancer is a disease that affects the set of instructions in certain cells; as a result, the instructions can be changed and the cells become cancer cells. Cancer cells may grow too much, form lumps or malignant tumours, and potentially spread to other parts of the body.
People often consider breast cancer to be only one cancer. Actually, it is a group of different cancers that affect the breast. Knowing about the type of breast cancer you have can help you to understand what is happening in your body and how the treatment options prescribed by your doctor work.
Most breast cancers occur in women, with less than 1% of the breast cancers occurring in men. The main reason is that female hormones, especially oestrogen, encourage the growth of some breast cancers.
What are risk factors for breast cancer?
Some of the factors that increase the risk of someone developing breast cancer include:
In order to prescribe treatment, doctors need to know the extent or “stage” of cancer in the body. For breast cancer, the most common staging system is the “TNM” system. TNM stands for tumour, nodes and metastasis. These are measured as follows:
In breast cancer, there are five main stages: 0, I, II, III and IV. Generally, the possible outcome of the disease (prognosis) for the patient is better at lower stages. Very generally, the stages are:
Generally, the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the more likely the patient will survive. Your doctor can explain the statistics for breast cancer and what they may mean for you.
What are the effects of breast cancer?
The most common symptoms of breast cancer include:
A lump in the breast – the most common first sign
As the breast cancer gets larger or spreads to other organs, other symptoms may occur:
For most people, regardless of having cancer or not, exercise, healthy eating and good sleeping habits are recommended. A healthy lifestyle can lead to an enhanced quality of life for most people. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes.
Dietary supplements including vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements cannot take the place of healthy well-balanced eating. In some cases, however, your doctor or dietician will recommend supplements if you are deficient in a certain nutrient. It is important to note that taking vitamins or other supplements at a higher than recommended amount may do more harm than good and could even be dangerous. If you are thinking of taking a supplement, talk to your doctor first.
Here are some examples of complementary therapies:
Your healthcare team will discuss your treatment options with you. These options may include: surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy and palliative care (treatment that relieves pain but does not treat the underlying condition).
Your healthcare team will consider a number of factors when deciding on a treatment for breast cancer, including:
Depending on the stage of your cancer and the treatment option(s) prescribed, you may have one or more of the following specialists on your healthcare team:
Other healthcare professionals may also be involved, such as nurses and social workers.
Please note that the information on this website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for seeking medical advice or treatment from a healthcare professional. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a medical condition or health problem. Speak to a health care professional if you have any questions about your health, medical condition, symptoms or treatment options.
Cancer Research UK is a cancer research and awareness charity in the United Kingdom
National Comprehensive Cancer Network
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), a not-for-profit devoted to patient care, research and education, is dedicated to improving the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of cancer care so that patients can live better lives.