About Breast Cancer & Early Detection

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases that occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order. Each organ in the body is made up of various kinds of cells. Cells normally divide in an orderly fashion to produce more cells only when it is necessary. This process helps to keep the body healthy. If cells divide when new cells are not needed, they form too much tissue. This extra tissue is called a tumour. Tumours can be benign or malignant.

The majority of breast tumours (80-90%) are benign. Benign breast tumours are not a threat to life. Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that develops from cells in the breast. The cancer cells grow and divide out of control, invading and damaging nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from the original tumour and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body. This spread of the cancer is called metastasis.

Breast cancers may appear as a lump but there are many different types of breast lumps. Most lumps are harmless, or benign. Benign lumps are abnormal, but not life-threatening. There are many different types of breast cancer.

In many women the breast is lumpy in texture, which indicates only a texture and does not refer to presence of many true growths in the breasts. The word lump is used loosely sometimes, to refer to what you feel but may not mean a true growth. However, a lumpy textured-breast will make detection of a true breast growth more difficult. When in doubt, imaging of the breasts will help to differentiate between true growths or just lumpy texture.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

We do not really know the exact cause of breast cancer. It is most likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These are not completely understood. Many people can remain cancer free despite a family history of cancer and exposure to environmental dangers, such as long-term tobacco use. Most cancer patients do not have a family history of cancer, nor any exposure to a known environmental trigger. In addition the same type of breast cancer in different individuals may behave differently. Therefore knowing what happened to your friend or neighbour or colleague may not mean you will undergo the same course even if a cancer is diagnosed in you.

Remember men may also get breast cancer, as they also have breast glands (albeit, very little and undeveloped).

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