Breast cancer is a type of cancer in the tissues of the breasts that causes cells to divide and multiply uncontrollably. It is the most common type of cancer in women and one of the deadliest cancers overall. Breast cancer may also occur in men, but it is far less common. The disease is typically noticed when a lump forms in the breast or underarm.
Breast cancer is a slow growing cancer, so once lumps in the breast are large enough to notice, they may have been growing for years.
Most breast cancers are ductal carcinoma, or cancer that begins in the linings of the milk ducts. Breast cancer may also form in the lobules, or the milk-producing glands and sometimes in the connective tissues of the breast.
Male breast cancer may also form in the lobules or ducts since these glands only produce milk when the necessary hormones are present.
Types of Breast Cancer
Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, and it begins in the linings of the milk or breast ducts. It can be categorized as in situ, meaning that the cancer is only found where it began to grow, or as invasive, meaning that cancer has spread or metastasized to the surrounding tissue of the breast or other parts of the body. About 1 in 5 new breast cancer cases will be ductal carcinoma in situ, and about 8 of every 10 new breast cancer cases will be invasive ductal carcinoma.
Lobular carcinoma begins in the milk-producing glands, or lobules, of the breast. Approximately 1 in 10 new breast cancer cases will be an invasive, or spreading, lobular carcinoma.
Less common types of breast cancer include inflammatory breast cancer, Paget's disease, and angiosarcoma.
Breast Cancer Facts and Statistics
- Nearly 1 in 8 women, or about 12% of all women, in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes.
- In 2015, there will be an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive or metastasizing breast cancer, and 60,290 cases of non-invasive breast cancer.
- Male breast cancer accounts for about 1% of all breast cancer cases.
- In 2015, there will be an expected 2,350 new cases of invasive male breast cancer.
- While death rates of breast cancer have been decreasing, an expected 40,290 women and 440 men will die of breast cancer in 2015.
- In 2015, breast cancer will account for approximately 30% of all newly diagnosed cancers in women.
- As of 2015, there are more than 2.8 million women in the United States who have a history of breast cancer, and are either currently being treated or have finished treatment.
- The five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer, or breast cancer that has not begun to spread, is 99%. If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the survival rate drops to 26%.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
- Being female. Breast cancer is about 100 times less likely to appear in men than in women.
- Being over 50 years old. The most dangerous cases of breast cancer occur in men and women over 50 years of age.
- Previous exposure to radiation, possibly from cancer treatments.
- Long-term use of hormone replacement therapies.
- Personal or family history of breast cancer or other diseases of the breast.
- Being obese or overweight.
- Having dense breast tissue as shown by a mammogram.
- Having certain breast conditions, like lesions.
- For women: not having been pregnant, or becoming pregnant for the first time at the age of 35 or older.
- Long-term tobacco smoking.
- Night work hours.
Risk factors specific to men are:
- Exposure to estrogen-related drugs
- Klinefelter's syndrome, a syndrome where a male is born with more than one copy of the X chromosome which results in lower levels of male hormones and higher levels of female hormones
- Liver disease, which can reduce the amount of male hormones and increase female hormones
- Medical conditions involving the testicles
For most patients, the first symptom of breast cancer is a lump in the breast. Not all lumps or masses are cancerous; about 90% are benign, meaning non-cancerous. They still may need to be removed if they are growing or if they cause problems with surrounding tissue and organs. Typically cancerous lumps and masses are painless, hard, and have irregular edges, but this may not always be the case. A doctor should carefully examine any new lumps or masses to determine their cause and type.
Other symptoms include:
- Swelling or thickening of a part of the breast
- Irritation or dimple on breast
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- Pain in the nipple or breast
- Redness, thickening, or other irritated skin conditions on the nipple
Diagnosing Breast Cancer
Today, screening tests are widely used to test for breast cancer even when there are no symptoms. The American Cancer Society recommends various regular screening tests for breast cancer based on individual risk factors.
For average-risk women, the American Cancer Society offers the following recommendations :
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms, or ultrasounds, if they wish to do so. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered.
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
- All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms associated with breast cancer screening. They should also be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. They should report any changes to a health care provider right away.
For women with a higher than average risk, including women with a personal or family history of breast cancer and women with certain genetic mutations, such as BRCA gene mutations or previous exposure to radiation, the American Cancer Society recommends MRI screenings.
All women are encouraged to do self-breast exams at home on a regular basis. To learn more visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation's website here.
Men with one or more of the risk factors should follow the same guidelines as women with a higher than average risk.
Once doctors suspect breast cancer, they may take a mammogram (or x-ray), an ultrasound scan, or a biopsy (tissue sample). Doctors should also be aware of the patient's full personal and family medical history, and should conduct a full physical examination.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Treatments for breast cancer will depend on the type of cancer, the location of the cancer, the size of the cancerous tumor, and the patient's overall health. Treatments may include surgically removing the tumor or having a full mastectomy (having the whole breast removed), using radiation and chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells, or using hormone therapy to slow or stop the growth of cancerous cells.
Malpractice in Breast Cancer
Since breast cancer is one of the most common and also one of the deadliest cancers, doctors should know when to recommend screening tests and further diagnostic tests to provide the patient with the best possible treatment options.
According to one study, the leading cause of errors in breast cancer cases is failing to diagnose a cancerous mass or lump in the breast or wrongfully classifying the mass as benign. The second most common cause of errors is a misread mammogram. The study also reported that up to 16% of women experience diagnostic delays for breast cancer, allowing the cancer to worsen and possibly spread.
Another study found communication errors between patients, doctors, and insurance providers to be a leading cause of breast cancer diagnostic errors.
Doctors should render care consistent with accepted medical standards in assessing, screening and treating breast cancer. Patients often suffer and die when breast cancer treatment is affected by medical negligence. Doctors should know how to screen, assess, diagnose and treat breast cancer timely and appropriately.
If you you believe that you or a loved one's breast cancer diagnosis or treatment has been mishandled by a health care provider, you have rights and may be eligible for compensation, including medical costs, lost wages, and emotional pain and suffering.
Contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consolation. Our experienced attorneys have handled numerous misdiagnosis of breast cancer malpractice cases successfully and are dedicated to protecting your rights and helping you and your family through the turmoil caused by breast cancer. We have a licensed physician on staff to help evaluate your case.