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Researchers don’t know what causes breast cancer. However, there are several factors that can increase your breast cancer risk. Two of the most commonly known risk factors are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. These mutations were made famous by actress Angelina Jolie and her choice to have preventative double mastectomy. These two mutations dramatically increase the likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Women over the age of 50 are also more likely to develop breast cancer; as are women with high levels of estrogen. African-American women have a higher chance of developing breast cancer before menopause and are more likely to develop inflammatory breast cancer. Women who start menstruating before the age of 12 and who have their first child after 30 have an increased risk as well. Lifestyle choices also affect one’s breast cancer risk. Eating a healthy, nutritious diet, exercising frequently, maintaining a healthy weight, and not consuming alcohol or cigarettes all decrease the likelihood of breast cancer. Yet these are only risk factors and risk alleviators. You can have all the risk factors and never develop breast cancer or have none of the risk factors and still develop breast cancer.
Most types of breast cancer form in the mammary ducts or glands, which are responsible for carrying and producing milk. Some types of cancers develop in other breast tissues, but they are more rare. Breast cancer cells divide and multiply, forming an abnormal lump in the breast. Over time, if left untreated, this lump, or tumor, spreads and grows. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is called metastatic breast cancer.

According to Komen, over 250,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and over 63,000 cases of in situ breast cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. This translates to roughly 124.9 new cases per 100,000 women. For men, the rate drops to 1.2 per 100,000 individuals. Meanwhile, average rates of incidence range from about 95 per 100,000 women in Western Europe to just under 20 cases per 100,000 women in Middle Africa. The WHO GLOBOCAN project also gathers data about international breast cancer rates. Although these estimates are from 2012, you can still find information about average rates by country here.

In the United States, the average five-year survival rate for people with breast cancer generally is 90 percent. This means that 90 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer will survive for at least five years. Meanwhile, the 10-year survival rate is 83 percent.

But survival rates do vary based on stage. Five-year rates for stage II breast cancer were 85 percent. And 26 percent of people with stage IV breast cancer survive for five years.

Yes, young women can get breast cancer. However, rates of breast cancer in young women are much lower. A family history of breast cancer, genetic mutation, or heavy alcohol use all increase the risk of developing breast cancer under the age of 40. Since breast cancer in younger women is more difficult to detect and more likely to be aggressive, it is important to speak up with your physician if you are concerned.

There aren’t any studies that show breast cancer can be healed naturally. Certain foods and herbs, such as turmeric and garlic, have been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer, but no natural treatment has been shown to cure breast cancer. If you are interested in natural healing methods, you should speak with your oncologist as to whether there are any safe supplements or natural healing options, such as acupuncture, that you may use in conjunction with your medical treatment. Be careful that you bring up any supplements to your oncologist, as sometimes they can impact the effectiveness of the other treatments you are receiving.

There is a huge range of breast cancer types. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the more common type of non-invasive breast cancer. It forms in the milk ducts and has not spread beyond that ducts to the surrounding breast tissue. When breast cancer has spread outside of the milk ducts, it is often called infiltrating or invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). Roughly 80 percent of all breast cancers are IDC.

Within IDC, there are still many subtypes, including tubular carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma, and cribriform carcinoma of the breast. These subtypes may form in different areas of the body or have different tumor appearances.

There is also inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, which is a rare, aggressive breast cancer that tends to spread quickly. Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is another type that increases your risk of developing invasive breast cancer later in life.

Finally, there is invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC). This type of breast cancer forms in milk-producing lobules and later spreads.

Breast cancer is divided into stages 0 through IV.

The term, Stage 0, is used for non-invasive breast cancers like DCIS. In this stage, physicians cannot find any evidence of cancer cells in the normal breast tissue.

Stage I refers to breast cancer that has spread to the surrounding breast tissue. Within this stage, tumors are either less than two centimeters in size and are contained within the breast or are over two centimeters or have spread to the lymph nodes.

Breast cancer in Stage II is typically between two and five centimeters. It may be found in the lymph nodes or axillary lymph nodes.

Stage III breast cancers are larger than five centimeters in diameters. They may be present in up to nine axillary lymph nodes. Inflammatory breast cancer may also develop in Stage III, through it is very rare.

Finally, Stage IV breast cancer has spread outside of the breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes. This stage is used when cancer reaches such organs as the skin, liver, or lungs. It is often referred to as “advanced” or “metastatic” breast cancer.

Staging may also be done using the TNM – or tumor, node, metastasis – system. You can read more about that staging system here.

Breast cancer starts as a single malignant cell. That cell divides into two malignant cells. Then it divides into four cells, and so on. Before breast cancer can be felt, it usually has to divide 30 times. Since each of these divisions can take one to two months, most breast cancers are not felt until they’ve been silently growing for two to five years. By this time, the tumor is around one-half inch in size, and it may have spread to the breast tissue. For this reason, it’s extremely important to undergo regular screening tests to catch breast cancer early on.
Being hit in the chest or falling does not increase your risk of breast cancer. Such injuries can cause swelling and bruising in your breast. This can result in the breast being tender to touch. Certain injuries can also cause the breast to form a benign lump due to the natural development of scar tissue.
Since birth control pills rely on hormones to work, they can increase your risk of breast cancer. Studies have found that women between the ages of 20 and 49 were more likely to develop breast cancer when using high-dose estrogen pills. This finding was not seen among women using low-dose estrogen pills. Furthermore, Komen has reported that birth control pills slightly increase women’s risk of breast cancer by about 20 to 30 percent. But the increase in risk goes away after 10 years of not taking birth control pills.

As of October 2017, some of the latest breast cancer research has focused on such areas as breast cancer causes, treatment, and management. There are several studies that are looking at how weight changes and diet affect breast cancer risk. And recent studies have found that hormone therapy drugs may prevent breast cancer. Other studies have demonstrated that Tibetan yoga and exercise may help with some chemotherapy side-effects. Both and the American Cancer Society keep pages dedicated to reporting new developments in research, and we also like to highlight findings we think our readers will be interested in.

The use of underarm antiperspirants do not increase breast cancer risk. Nor does the use of underarm deodorant or underarm shaving. Small cuts that result from shaving can lead to a skin infection. And antiperspirants can cause some irritation when the underarm skin is broken.
No. Breastfeeding with breast cancer does not pass cancer cells to the child. Plus, breastfeeding is safe if you are undergoing diagnostic tests for breast cancer or receiving radiation therapy. You should stop breastfeeding if you are having chemotherapy or radioactive isotope therapy.
When breast cancer goes into remission, it means that physicians cannot find any evidence of the cancer in the body. Unfortunately, remission does not mean breast cancer is cured. There can still be cancer cells in your body that physicians cannot detect using imaging, scans, or other methods. The presence of these cells can result in breast cancer returning after you’ve gone into remission.
Also known as stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer, advanced breast cancer cannot be cured. But you can prolong your life with treatment. The five-year survival rate of stage 4 breast cancer is around 22 percent. However, some women continue living with advanced breast cancer for many more years. Your specific outlook is impossible to calculate, as it is affected by many factors, such as your general health, the affected tissue, and your age. Ask your breast cancer treatment team more about your concerns and what you can do to live well with metastatic breast cancer.

Scientists continually working toward finding a breast cancer cure, but there are many, many types of cancers, so a one-cure-fits-all approach may not work. Thankfully, new tests and treatments that improve survivability are being continually created. That being said, organizations like the National Breast Cancer Coalition are pushing for a cure by the year 2020.

Have questions we’ve not answered? Let us know.