Overview of Breast Cancer: Part 1: Types/Stages, Signs and Symptoms, Risk Factors

Updated: Jan 8

October is annually observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the leading cancer in Saint Lucia, and 1 in 16 Saint Lucian women are at risk of getting breast cancer.


Herstoire was honored to host a very informative discussion with Dr.Tamara Remy, Consultant General Surgeon, and President of the Saint Lucia Cancer Society. Based on our insightful conversation, here are some common questions and answers about breast cancer.


Part 1: Overview of Breast Cancer: Types/Stages, Signs and Symptoms, Risk Factors


  • Question: What is breast cancer? Which breast usually gets cancer?

Answer:

  • Cancer is an abnormality in the growth of cells that spreads rapidly

  • Breast cancer originates in the breast; left-sided breast cancer seems to be more common.

  • The parts of breasts that could become cancerous include the skin, lobes (glands in the breast tissue), or nipples ducts (pipes that lead to sacs that make milk).


  • Question: Can a fibrocystic breast lead to breast cancer?

Answer:

  • Fibrocystic breasts can get cancer but the majority do not.

  • Fibrocystic breasts are lumpy and sore, so it can be difficult to pick up abnormalities.


  • Question: What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

Answer:

  • The most common but not the only symptom is a lump in the breast

  • Most times lumps do not cause pain but some can be painful

  • Not all lumps are cancerous

  • Change in the skin (resembles orange peel)

  • Change in nipple discharge colour

  • Change in nipple position (nipple sticking out/pulling in)

  • Enlarged glands in the underarm or in the armpit (lymph nodes)


  • Question: What are the types of breast cancer? Where are they located?

Answer:

  • Ductal cancer is formed in the cells lining the milk ducts

  • Lobular cancer is formed in the milk-producing lobules

  • Inflammatory breast cancer is formed in lymph vessels in the skin of the breast


  • Question: What are the stages of cancer? What do they mean?

Answer:

  • The stage of cancer depends on the size of the tumor and how much the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs.

  • Stages 1-2 are early

  • Cancer cells are breaking through to or invading normal surrounding breast tissue

  • In stage 1 tumors are 2cm or less, lymph nodes may or may not be affected

  • In stage 2 tumors are 2-5cm, lymph nodes may or may not be affected

  • Stage 3 is advanced

  • Tumors are greater than 5cm, cancer cells spread to lymph nodes

  • Stage 4 is metastatic

  • Tumor of any size

  • Cancer cells spread to lymph nodes or distant organs


  • Question: Can men be diagnosed with breast cancer?

Answer:

  • Yes, anyone with breasts can get breast cancer, but 99% of people who get breast cancer are women.


  • Question: What causes breast cancer? Is breast cancer genetic?

Answer:

  • There is no definite cause for breast cancer.

  • Breast cancer is genetic. People can be tested for the gene to find out whether they are positive for breast cancer, but testing is expensive.


  • Question: What are some of the risk factors of breast cancer?

Answer:

  • Genetic predispositions

  • Gender: Females are more likely

  • Age: Older women are more likely

  • Poor diet, lack of exercise

  • Stress


  • Question: What are some factors that are unique to Black women’s risks for breast cancer?

Answer:

  • Black women have higher rates of mortality and elevated risk of getting more aggressive types of breast cancer.

  • There are risk factors of being in a third world country including access to care, financial barriers (such as the cost of a mammogram), and cultural beliefs (thinking you are too young, using natural remedies).


  • Question: What known impact does hormonal birth control have on breast cancer risk?

Answer:

  • Oral contraceptives can cause increased risk of getting cancer. When pills are stopped, an individual's risk goes back to what it was before. When considering birth control, weigh pros and cons.


Be sure to check out Part 2 where we cover Breast Cancer Screening, Treatment options and Support. To gain even more insights, feel free to check out our recorded discussion with Dr. Remy here. https://youtu.be/M8hv7uz3XnY


by: KS


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