What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases in which cells in the body grow, change, and What is Breast Cancer? | General Information on Breast Cancer | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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What is Breast Cancer?

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases in which cells in the body grow, change, and multiply out of control. Usually, cancer is named after the body part in which it originated; thus, breast cancer refers to the erratic growth and proliferation of cells that originate in the breast tissue. A group of rapidly dividing cells may form a lump or mass of extra tissue. These masses are called tumors. Tumors can either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Malignant tumors penetrate and destroy healthy body tissues. A group of cells within a tumor may also break away and spread to other parts of the body. Cells that spread from one region of the body into another are called metastases.

The term breast cancer refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. The breast is composed of two main types of tissues: glandular tissues and stromal (supporting) tissues. Glandular tissues house the milk-producing glands (lobules) and the ducts (the milk passages) while stromal tissues include fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast. The breast is also made up of lymphatic tissue-immune system tissue that removes cellular fluids and waste.

There are several types of tumors that may develop within different areas of the breast. Most tumors are the result of benign (non-cancerous) changes within the breast. For example, fibrocystic change is a non-cancerous condition in which women develop cysts (accumulated packets of fluid), fibrosis (formation of scar-like connective tissue), lumpiness, areas of thickening, tenderness, or breast pain.

The American Cancer Society estimates that each year over 178,000 American women and 2,000 American men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women between 40 and 55 years of age and is the second overall cause of death among women (exceeded only by lung cancer). Fortunately, the mortality rate from breast cancer has decreased in recent years with an increased emphasis on early detection and more effective treatments.

The remainder of this article outlines several forms of breast cancer that may be found in women. Click here to learn more about breast cancer in men.

Non-Invasive Breast Cancer Invasive Breast Cancer
Cancer cells that are confined to the ducts and do not invade surrounding fatty and connective tissues of the breast.  Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the most common form of non-invasive breast cancer (90%).  Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is less common and considered a marker for increased breast cancer risk. Cancer cells that break through the duct and lobular wall and invade the surrounding fatty and connective tissues of the breast.  Cancer can be invasive without being metastatic (spreading) to the lymph nodes or other organs.