Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. If detected early, it can usually be cured easily. What signs are typical, what promotes it and what helps.
Breast cancer (also called breast cancer) is a malignant tumor of the mammary gland. Both women and men can get breast cancer.
However, it occurs comparatively rarely in men: In Germany there are more than 67,000 new cases every year – in 99 out of 100 cases in women. In addition, more than 6,000 women develop pre-breast cancer every year.
This makes breast cancer the most common cancer among women in this country. Statistically, around 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.
The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women older than 65 years. However, in around 3 out of 10 cases the diagnosis also affects women under 55 years of age.
Detecting breast cancer: These symptoms are typical
Breast cancer or breast cancer can manifest itself through various symptoms. Some signs are visible externally, others can only be felt. There is usually no pain in early-stage breast cancer.
The following signs can indicate breast cancer:
- The shape or size of the breast has changed unusually.
- When you lift your arms, the breasts look different.
- A lump or hardened area can be felt in the breast.
- A swollen lymph node an be felt in the armpit , but there is no obvious cause (such as an inflamed area under the armpit).
- The nipple or part of the breast skin retracts inward.
- The skin of the breast is red or flaky.
- The breast skin does not heal.
- A clear, bloody or purulent fluid comes from the nipple.
Such symptoms can also indicate breast cancer in men. Only the doctor can determine whether such changes in women (or men) are actually an indication of breast cancer or whether there is a harmless cause such as a benign tumor. You should therefore have such changes clarified as soon as possible.
Breast Cancer: Possible Causes
What exactly causes breast cancer is not yet fully understood. In any case, there is probably no single cause of breast cancer. What is certain is that various risk factors can promote breast cancer. Some of them can be influenced, others cannot.
Breast cancer occurs when the genetic information in a cell in the breast tissue changes in such a way that its growth can no longer be controlled by cell signals and this “degenerates” as a result. Such degenerated cells begin to grow uncontrollably.
The cancer cells then no longer follow the respective cell-typical growth rules. They divide more quickly and multiply quickly, so that a whole group of degenerated cells can soon form. This can result in lumps or growths in the breast tissue.
If cancer cells also enter the lymphatic system, they can spread from there to surrounding lymph nodes or even to more distant areas of the body. Such growths are called metastases.
Breast cancer can generally arise from different cells in the breast tissue. In most cases, breast cancer develops from the cells of the milk ducts. The technical term for this is “invasive ductal carcinoma.” Milk ducts are located in the breasts of both women and men.
Breast cancer can also arise from the lobules in the mammary gland. Then experts speak of an “invasive lobular carcinoma”.
Risk factors: What promotes breast cancer
There are many factors that can promote the development of breast cancer. If you take a closer look at these factors, they probably occur in one combination or another in almost every woman.
However, some factors are more important than others when it comes to breast cancer risk, particularly age and hereditary predisposition. So-called lifestyle factors can also influence the risk of cancer, but they contribute less to breast cancer than other factors.
It is important to know that the mere presence of one risk factor – or even several – does not automatically lead to getting breast cancer or increasing the risk. Certain “risk factors” for breast cancer are common – such as being a woman.
Ultimately, it is not known why some women with certain risk factors develop breast cancer and others with the same risk factors do not. Breast cancer often develops for no apparent reason.
The following influences or circumstances are considered risk factors for breast cancer:
- Female gender: Women develop breast cancer significantly more often than men, namely in 99 percent of cases.
- Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age.
- previous breast diseases, such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) or breast carcinoma
- Cases of breast cancer in the family, for example in the mother or sister, especially if they were diagnosed at a young age
- Genetic predisposition: Anyone who carries certain gene changes (such as the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes) has an increased risk.
- Severe overweight (obesity = BMI of 30 or more) during menopause
- first menstrual period before the age of 12
- very late onset of menopause or late last menstrual period (menopause)
- late first pregnancy (after age 30)
- never having been pregnant
- Hormone replacement therapy during menopause (with combination preparations made from estrogen and progesterone)
- high breast density
- regular alcohol consumption
Hereditary predisposition to breast cancer: what does that mean?
Someone in the family has breast cancer – will I now get it too? Many women ask themselves questions like this. What matters most is how closely related you are. If breast cancer affects the mother or a sister, there is a first degree relationship. Then your own risk of breast cancer increases twice.
The situation is different if a more distant relative such as a grandmother or cousin has breast cancer. This means that your own risk of breast cancer hardly increases.
If several close relatives develop breast cancer, there may be a hereditary genetic change. Whether it is actually so-called familial breast cancer can be proven using a genetic test.
Such a genetic change (mutation) is the cause in around 5 to 10 out of 100 women with breast cancer. The changes are usually found in the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes. BRCA is the abbreviation for breast cancer gene.
If there are mutations in the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes, the risk of breast cancer increases significantly. Statistically, around 65 out of 100 women with an altered BRCA-1 gene will develop breast cancer before the age of 70. With a modified BRCA-2 gene, around 45 out of 100 women develop breast cancer before the age of 70.
Breast cancer: Are lifestyle factors or psychology the trigger?
Has your own lifestyle contributed to the development of breast cancer? Scientifically speaking, this is rather unlikely – with one exception: women who regularly drink a lot of alcohol are, on average, more likely to develop breast cancer.
Are stress , traumatic experiences and depression the triggers of breast cancer? Or do you even have a “cancer personality”? There is currently no evidence of such connections.
Some women fear that the risk of breast cancer increases due to abortions, bras that are too tight or deodorants that contain aluminum. Scientifically there is no evidence of this.