Breast cancer is a type of cancer in which cells in the breast become abnormal and grow and divide uncontrollably.
Normal cells divide, grow, and die on a continual, controlled basis. The nucleus of each cell contains genes made up of DNA that 'tells' that cell what to do and determines its lifespan. When cells grow uncontrollably, they will eventually form a mass, also called a tumor. Benign tumors are not cancer, they do not invade other types of tissue, but they may pose problems depending on their size and location if they grow large enough to interfere with a bodily function (such as blood or urine flow) or put too much pressure on an organ or nerve.
Malignant tumors are made up of abnormal cells that are capable of invading nearby tissues.
Cells from the original tumor may also break off and travel via the blood or lymph systems to distant location (metastasize). When these cancer cells grow in another organ, the cancer will still be named for the organ where it began. For example, if breast cancer cells travel to the liver and grow there, that person would have metastisized breast cancer, not liver cancer.
How Cancer Grows
Cancer cells grow and divide at an abnormally rapid rate, so they need extra nutrients. Since cells get their requirements supplied by the blood, malignant tumors build new blood vessels - a process called angiogenesis. Developing treatments to stop this process (called anti-angiogenesis) is one promising area of cancer research.
What Causes the Cells To Grow Uncontrollably?
A change or mutation in the genes of a cell changes the way that cells acts. The mutation may exist at birth from an inherited genetic trait from a mother or father or it may be spontaneous - a change that occurs sometime after birth. Inheriting the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene has been identified as a factor in raising the risk of developing breast cancer.
When you hear that a substance is carcinogenic, Some substances, such as cigarettes, have been identified as carcinogens, meaning it is capable of causing a spontaneous genetic mutation that can cause a cancer to begin. Most of the causes of cancer, however, remain unknown. Research is ongoing to understand exactly how each each carcingen causes genetic mutation in hopes of then finding a way to block it.
The majority (over 75%) of breast cancers begin in the (milk) ducts within the breast; the next most common site is the lobules - the glandular tissue that makes milk. Most breast cancers are slow-growing and by the time a lump can be felt, it may have been growing for 5 or 10 years. Early breast cancer usually has no symptoms and the earlier a tumor is found, the better the chance of survival. For these reasons it is extremely important for women to be screened regularly by mammography or ultrasound since they may identify a cancerous tumor before it can be felt. In addition, if a lump or thickening can be felt, it is vital to seek a medical evaluation right away.
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