Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the cells of the breast. Worldwide, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer after lung cancer (10.4% of all cancer incidence, both sexes counted) and the fifth most common cause of cancer death. However, among women worldwide, breast cancer is by far the most common cause of cancer, both in incidence and death. In 2005, breast cancer caused 502,000 deaths worldwide (7% of cancer deaths; almost 1% of all deaths). The number of cases worldwide has significantly increased since the 1970s, a phenomenon partly blamed on modern lifestyles in the Western world.

Breast cancer incidence is much higher in industrialised Western countries, whether in Europe or North America, than in developing countries. North American women have the highest incidence of breast cancer in the world. Among women in the U.S., breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second-most common cause of cancer death (after lung cancer). Women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 (12.5%) lifetime chance of developing invasive breast cancer and a 1 in 35 (3%) chance of breast cancer causing their death. In 2007, breast cancer was expected to cause 40,910 deaths in the U.S. (7% of cancer deaths; almost 2% of all deaths).

In the U.S., both incidence and death rates for breast cancer have been declining in the last few years. Nevertheless, a U.S. study conducted in 2005 by the Society for Women's Health Research indicated that breast cancer remains the most feared disease, even though heart disease is a much more common cause of death among women.

Because the breast is composed of identical tissues in males and females, breast cancer also occurs in males. Incidences of breast cancer in men are approximately 100 times less common than in women, but men with breast cancer are considered to have the same statistical survival rates as women.

Breast cancers are described along four different classification schemes, or groups, each based on different criteria and serving a different purpose:

* Pathology - A pathologist will categorize each tumor based on its histological (microscopic anatomy) appearance and other criteria. The most common pathologic types of breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma, malignant cancer in the breast's ducts, and invasive lobular carcinoma, malignant cancer in the breast's lobules.
* Grade of tumor - The histological grade of a tumor is determined by a pathologist under a microscope. A well-differentiated (low grade) tumor resembles normal tissue. A poorly differentiated (high grade) tumor is composed of disorganized cells and, therefore, does not look like normal tissue. Moderately differentiated (intermediate grade) tumors are somewhere in between.
* Protein & gene expression status - Currently, all breast cancers should be tested for expression, or detectable effect, of the estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2/neu proteins. These tests are usually done by immunohistochemistry and are presented in a pathologist's report. The profile of expression of a given tumor helps predict its prognosis, or outlook, and helps an oncologist choose the most appropriate treatment. More genes and/or proteins may be tested in the future.
* Stage of a tumour - The currently accepted staging scheme for breast cancer is the TNM classification.

Signs and Symptoms
The first symptom, or subjective sign, of breast cancer is typically a lump that feels different than the surrounding breast tissue. According to the Merck Manual, greater than 80% of breast cancer cases are discovered as a lump by the woman herself.[16] According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the first medical sign, or objective indication of breast cancer as detected by a physician, is discovered by mammogram.[7] Lumps found in lymph nodes located in the armpits[16] and/or collarbone[citation needed] can also indicate breast cancer.

Indications of breast cancer other than a lump may include changes in breast size or shape, skin dimpling, nipple inversion, or spontaneous single-nipple discharge. Pain is an unreliable tool in determining the presence of breast cancer, but may be indicative of other breast-related health issues such as mastodynia.[7][16][17]

When breast cancer cells invade the dermal lymphatics, small lymph vessels in the skin of the breast, its presentation can resemble skin inflammation and thus is known as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include pain, swelling, warmth and redness throughout the breast, as well as an orange peel texture to the skin referred to as peau d'orange.

Another reported symptom complex of breast cancer is Paget's disease of the breast. This syndrome presents as eczematoid skin changes such as redness and mild flaking of the nipple skin. As Paget's advances, symptoms may include tingling, itching, increased sensitivity, burning, and pain. There may also be discharge from the nipple. Approximately half of women diagnosed with Paget's also have a lump in the breast.

Occasionally, breast cancer presents as metastatic disease, that is, cancer that has spread beyond the original organ. Metastatic breast cancer will cause symptoms that depend on the location of metastasis. More common sites of metastasis include bone, liver, lung and brain. Unexplained weight loss can occasionally herald an occult breast cancer, as can symptoms of fevers or chills. Bone or joint pains can sometimes be manifestations of metastatic breast cancer, as can jaundice or neurological symptoms. These symptoms are "non-specific," meaning they can also be manifestations of many other illnesses.

Most symptoms of breast disorder do not turn out to represent underlying breast cancer. Benign breast diseases such as mastitis and fibroadenoma of the breast are more common causes of breast disorder symptoms. The appearance of a new symptom should be taken seriously by both patients and their doctors, because of the possibility of an underlying breast cancer at almost any age.