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    breast cancer

    Breast cancer (breast carcinoma) is the most common cancer in women. It rarely occurs in men. Genetic predisposition and a higher age of life favor the development of breast cancer as well as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise. Everything about the risk factors and precursors of breast cancer as well as its diagnosis and prevention can be found here!

    breast cancer

    Breast Cancer: Description

    Breast cancer (synonyms: mammary carcinoma, carcinoma mammae, or short mammary carcinoma) is a malignant tumor of the breast . It can invade healthy tissue (invasive growth) and destroy it. Individual cancer cells can spread over the blood and lymphatic pathways in the body and form new growths (metastases) elsewhere.

    Breast cancer: frequency

    Breast cancer affects mainly women and rarely men. In 2012, 69,550 women and 620 men were newly diagnosed with breast cancer. In almost 17,750 female and 150 male patients, the tumor resulted in death. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.

    Lesions and breast cancer precursors

    Most knotted changes discovered in the breast are benign. Other changes are considered to be “dangerous lesions”, that is, tissue damage that could result in breast cancer. Examples are the intraductal hyperplasia, too many normal cells in the milk ducts) and the intraductal atypical hyperplasia, altered cells in the milk ducts).

    Lobular neoplasia (LN) is also associated with this: Cell changes in the glandular lobes are summarized as “atypical lobular hyperplasia” (ALH) and “lobular carcinoma in situ” (LCIS). The Ductal Carcinoma in Situ ( DCIS ) is already regarded as a cancer precursor (precancerous disease ).

    Not all of these tissue changes have the same potential to develop into cancer. In addition, the degeneracy risk is influenced by other factors such as age and breast cancer in other family members. As a rule, therefore, it is decided in the individual case whether a detected change in the tissue is first observed or a treatment initiated. An exception is the DCIS: There are general recommendations on how to avoid this.

    Breast cancer: Different forms

    Breast cancer is not equal to breast turmor. Medical practitioners differ in their forms. With approximately 75%, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common form of breast cancer. It is also referred to as a non-specific type of invasive breast cancer (NST = “no special type”). The tumor here grows out of the mammary ducts, into the surrounding tissue.

    The second most common form of breast cancer, accounting for about 15%, is the invasive-lobular mammary carcinoma (ILC). The cancer here takes its origin from the glandular lobes.

    In addition, some rare breast cancer forms are known, such as inflammatory breast carcinoma (“inflammatory” breast cancer). It is considered particularly aggressive breast cancer and is accompanied by an inflammatory reaction in the form of skin redness and swelling. Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for only about one percent of all breast carcinomas.

    Where breast cancer arises

    Medics divide the breast into four quadrants (15 minute steps, analogous to the dial of a clock). Thus, a statement can be made as to where exactly the tumor is growing:

    Approximately half of all breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant, approximately 15 percent in the upper inner quadrant. Approximately eleven percent of breast carcinomas grow in the lower outer quadrant and six percent in the lower inner quadrant. In approximately 17 per cent of the cases breast cancer develops under the nipple.

    Breast cancer: causes and risk factors

    As with many other cancers, the actual cause is not known even in breast cancer. However, it is known that a number of risk factors favor breast cancer:

    Female Gender risk Factor

    About 99 percent of all breast cancer patients are female. Males develop very rarely a breast cancer.

    Life Risk Factor

    According to statistics, the risk of breast cancer in different age groups is different:

    • 35 years: One out of every 110 women are affected by breast cancer within the next ten years.
    • 45 years: One out of 47 women become ill within the next ten years.
    • 55 years: One in every 31 women will be diagnosed within the next ten years.
    • 65 years: Highest breast cancer risk. Within the next ten years, one out of 27 women.
    • In the elderly, the risk of breast cancer decreases slightly again.

    hormones Risk factor

    Breast cancer shows hormone-dependent growth in most cases. The longer a woman is exposed each month to the cyclical fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone levels, the higher the risk of breast cancer. Women who have had their first menstrual bleeding (before the age of 11) and / or have entered the menstrual cycle very late (after the age of 54) are particularly vulnerable.

    Also childlessness increases the breast cancer risk. On the other hand, the more children a woman has carried out and the longer she sleeps.

    For women who are only getting their first child after the age of 32, the risk of breast cancer is also moderately increased.

    The hormonal effect on tumor development is also evident in the intake of artificial hormones. For example, the “pill” can easily increase the risk of breast cancer. Women who take the pill for at least four years before they receive a child, as well as women who prevent the pill for several years before the age of 20, are particularly affected.

    Hormone replacement drugs have a particularly negative effect on breast cancer risk against menopause symptoms – especially if they are taken for more than four years. Caution is also needed with herbal hormones (such as phytoestrogens) as they are offered in the form of herbal supplements and dietary supplements for menopausal problems. Their application is also considered to be risky.

    Overweight and lack of exercise Risk factors

    Overweight is an important preventable risk factor for breast cancer: in adipose tissue, hormones are produced that increase estrogen levels. The female sex hormone stimulates the mammary glands to divide the cells. If mistakes occur, cancer can develop. Especially after the menopause, overweight appears to increase breast cancer risk – especially the risk for estrogen-dependent tumors.

    Lack of exercise does not only have a negative impact on breast cancer risk, but also harms overall health.

    Nutrition Risk Factor

    Fat-rich diet affects the body’s hormone production (elevated estrogen levels) and can therefore promote breast cancer (among other diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes). This applies in particular to animal fats such as fat sausage, meat, butter and other whole milk products.

    Smoking and alcohol Risk factors

    Smoking and passive smoking are harmful in many respects to health. Among other things, they promote the development of malignant tumors such as lung cancer and breast cancer. Especially when girls start smoking as a teenager, the risk of a malignant tumor in the breast increases significantly.

    Alcohol is also a risk factor: the higher the alcohol consumption, the greater the probability of breast cancer.

    Tight breast tissue Risk factor

    In women with very dense breast tissue – i.e less adipose tissue and more glandular and connective tissue – the risk of breast cancer is increased by a factor of five. The density of the breast tissue is determined in mammography, four levels of density being differentiated:

    • Density grade I: fat-transparent, well-transparent breast tissue
    • Density II: Moderately transparent breast tissue
    • Density III: dense breast tissue
    • Density IV: extremely dense breast tissue

    The density of breast tissue depends on various factors. It increases during hormone replacement therapy and decreases during pregnancy.

    Ionizing radiation Risk factor

    Anyone who has received irradiation in the breast area during childhood or adolescence (due to a Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of lymph gland cancer, for example) has a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.

    Other forms of ionizing radiation, such as radioactive rays and X-rays, can also trigger breast cancer and other forms of cancer. Mammary gland tissue is considered to be particularly sensitive to radiation, especially before and during puberty as well as before the first, fully-worn pregnancy. With age the breast tissue becomes less sensitive to radiation.

    Breast cancer: examinations and diagnosis

    If you have seen a nodule in the chest and / or notice other possible breast cancer symptoms (such as skin retractions or leakage from the nipple), you should immediately go to the gynecologist. He will first talk to you to obtain important background information (anamnesis). For example, the doctor inquires about when you have discovered the symptoms, whether you are taking hormones and whether there are cases of breast cancer or other cancer in your family.

    Scattering of the chest

    Then the doctor will scan your chest and surrounding areas (such as armpits, bones). To do this, you have to either stretch the arms upwards or push them into your hips. When scanning, the physician observes, for example, swelling, redness, loss, and changes in the shape of the breast and nipple. By pressing the nipple lightly, he can determine whether secretion escapes.

    Imaging procedures

    If changes or chest discomfort occur in women under 40 years of age, an ultrasound examination (sonography) is recommended as an imaging procedure. In addition, mammography can be performed.

    For women over the age of 40 it is exactly the opposite: Mammography is the imaging method of choice. It can be supplemented by an ultrasound examination if the breast tissue is quite dense.

    Magnetic resonance tomography (MRI)

    In magnetic resonance tomography (MRI), the breast tissue is displayed layer by magnetic fields. However, this very precise imaging is not a routine examination in breast cancer diagnostics. It is carried out, for example, when there is a clear suspicion of the spread of the tumor in the surrounding tissue if there is more than one suspicious spot detected in the breast, or if mammography does not provide good images due to breast implants. Also in women with strong familial pre-stress (breast cancer in the family) an MRT can be indicated.


    Not every tissue change in the breast is malignant. This can only be confirmed with a biopsy: the doctor takes a small tissue sample from the conspicuous area to allow her to be examined histologically in the laboratory. If cancer is indeed the case, it is also determined how strongly degenerate the cells are compared to healthy tissue already and whether they have many binding sites for hormones (ie grow hormone-dependent). This is important for therapy planning.

    The pathological finding

    In the pathological findings, the characteristics of the breast carcinoma are recorded as precisely as possible, usually in the form of abbreviations.

    For example, the TNM label indicates the size of the tumor (T1 to T4), whether adjacent (regional) lymph nodes are infected (N0 to N3) and whether the breast cancer has already formed (remote) metastases in other body regions ( yes = M1, no = M0).

    For example, T4N3M0 denotes a large tumor that has penetrated into the surrounding tissue (T4), but has not yet formed any distant metastases (M0) in many lymph node cancer cells (N3).

    Further abbreviations before the TNM designation provide additional information. For example, an initial “c” means that the TNM classification is based on the results of the imaging investigation. In the case of a prefixed “p”, however, the classification is based on the findings of the fine-web examination of the tissue sample.

    The “grading” – degeneracy of the tumor is also important for the classification of breast cancer stages. It consists of four stages: from G1 (tumor still well differentiated, slow growing, less aggressive) to G4 (undifferentiated tumor, fast growing, tends to aggressively grow into surrounding tissue).

    In the pathological findings, the hormone receptor status of the tumor is also indicated, ie whether breast cancer has many docking sites for estrogen (ER + or ER-positive) and / or progesterone (PgR + or PgR-positive). If so, a corresponding hormone withdrawal can slow down tumor growth.

    The HER2 receptor status, ie, whether the tumor cells on their surface have many docking sites for growth factors, is also detected. If yes (HER2-positive), the disease usually takes a more aggressive course. With special therapies that block the HER2 receptors, attempts can be made to prevent breast cancer from growing.

    Unsuitable for diagnosis: Tumormarker

    Breast cancer can not be diagnosed, as hitherto hoped, by means of tumor markers in the blood. Tumor markers are proteins whose concentration in the blood or tissue can be increased in a cancerous condition. They are either produced by the tumor itself or by healthy cells in response to the tumor. However, other diseases can often also increase the amount of such tumor markers, which is why they are usually not suitable for cancer diagnosis. The most important tumor marker in breast carcinoma is the CA 15-3; CEA also plays a role. However, the repeated determination of these tumor markers can help to assess the course of the disease and the success of the therapy.

    Breast cancer: treatment

    On the basis of the results of the examination and individual factors (such as age and general health) the doctor will draw up an individual therapy plan. This usually comprises different therapeutic approaches. Thus, after the surgical removal of the tumor, the affected area is often still irradiated in order to kill cancer cells left behind.

    Obtain a second opinion

    If you are unsure about the proposed therapy plan, you can ask for a doctor’s second opinion. Health insurance companies and cancer counseling centers help you find the right specialist. You must provide all documentation that led to the initial diagnosis (laboratory findings, radiographs, etc.) as well as a summary of the diagnosis and the planned measures (the first-time physician is obliged to provide these documents or copies thereof).

    The second specialist can confirm the proposed therapy or recommend it in modified form. If the first and second consultation differ strongly, the two doctors should consult with each other and formulate a joint therapy recommendation in order not to discourage you as a patient.

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    Breast cancer: disease history and prognosis

    The course of the disease in breast cancer depends on various factors. Especially the type of breast cancer and the stage of the tumor in its discovery play a role. Other factors also have an influence. For example, recurrences are more common in patients under 35 years of age, and the prognosis is generally less favorable for them than in older age groups.

    Prevent breast cancer

    Some risk factors for breast cancer can be avoided or at least reduced. You should, for example, pay attention to regular physical activity: anyone who is physically active 30 to 60 minutes at least five times a week reduces his breast cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent.

    Increased exercise also helps to avoid or reduce excess weight – excess fat pads also favor breast cancer. The same applies to high-fat diet: therefore do not eat too many animal fats (such as fat sausage, meat, butter and other dairy products).

    If possible, do not smoke or drink alcohol (or only in moderation).

    Also, consult with your doctor to see if hormone replacement therapy (HET) is appropriate for you during the menopause. Because hormone drugs can increase the risk of breast cancer .

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