Breast cancer is a catchall phrase for a number of different types of cancer of the breast, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The type of breast cancer that develops is dependent upon the type of cells within the breast that develop into cancer cells. Breast cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer among women in the United States, exceeded only by nonmelanoma skin cancer.
The breast is made up of milk glands and milk ducts that are surrounded by fatty and fibrous tissue and connected to the chest wall by connective tissue. All of these tissues are surrounded by skin. Milk that is produced during pregnancy and nursing are stored in the milk glands and passed through the milk ducts to the nipples where it is excreted as the infant feeds. Cancerous cells may develop in any of these different types of tissue, but the most common forms of breast cancer — lobular carcinoma or ductal carcinoma, start in the milk glands, or the milk ducts, respectively.
In 2007, 40,598 women died from breast cancer in the United States according to the CDC, and nearly 203,000 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. The National Cancer Institute estimates there were more than 207,000 new cases of breast cancer among American women in 2010, and 39,840 deaths. Breast cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer among American women, and is exceeded in its mortality rate among women only by lung cancer.
Breast cancer is more frequently diagnosed among white women than any other ethnicity in the United States. Black women experience the second-highest incidence of breast cancer, followed by Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indians and Alaska natives. Black women have the highest mortality rate from breast cancer, followed by whites, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska natives, and Asian/Pacific islanders. Incidence of breast cancer increases significantly with age, and is twice as prevalent among 60 year old women as it is in 30 year old women.
Most breast lumps are not caused by cancer. Fibrocystic change can result in sore, tender breasts that may also feel lumpy. Fluid filled cysts may develop in the breasts and appear as lumps. The breast themselves contain a number of milk glands that may feel like a cluster of grapes. Noncancerous tumors may also form in the breasts. None of these instances pose a serious health threat, but all unusual lumps should be checked out by a healthcare professional.
Early detection of breast cancer provides doctors with the best chance of successfully treating the disease. Women of all ages should be aware of how their breasts look and feel at different times of the month so they can recognize when something doesn’t look or feel right. Women should have a clinical breast exam every three years after age 20, and annually after age 40. Women over 40 should also have a mammogram each year, according to the Komen Foundation.