Breast Cancer

Do you know every 4 minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, worldwide? According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and overall, the second most common cancer. As per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) data, every year about 1,00,000 new breast cancer cases is diagnosed in India.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops when breast cells begin to grow and divide abnormally, thereby forming a mass of cells known as a tumour. This tumour is usually seen in a mammogram or felt as a lump. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. It can also occur in men, although rare.

Breast Anatomy

Knowing the anatomy of the breast and learning about its different parts and functions will help in a better understanding of the disease.

The breast also known as mammary glands is a highly evolved specialized part of the human body. It plays an important role in the sexual anatomy of males and females.

Throughout life, the breast undergoes a lot of changes starting from the time of puberty to reaching menopause. Before puberty, men and women have ducts and lobes within the connective tissue stroma. But, as the girl enters the stage of puberty, true breast development begins. Ovaries start producing and releasing oestrogen, which stimulates the growth of the different parts of the breast, causing breast enlargement. When a boy enters puberty, they start producing the male hormone testosterone, which stops the development of the breast.

Nipples and areola are the visible parts of both women’s and men’s breasts. Internally, men have undeveloped milk ducts. Because of this reason, the chance of men developing breast cancer is lower than women. However, in certain conditions, when the oestrogen dominates testosterone production in a man, his breasts will begin to develop.

In addition to nipples and areola, a female breast comprises of the
following parts:

  • Lobes and lobules: Each breast contains about 15 to 20 lobes and each lobe comprises small round sacs known as lobules. Lobules are responsible for the production of milk in nursing mothers.
  • Milk ducts: The lobes and lobules are connected to the nipple through small thin tubes known as ducts. These ducts are responsible for the transportation of milk from lobules to the nipple.
  • Nipples: The nipple is the visible part located at the centre of the areola. Each nipple contains nerves and nine milk ducts.
  • Areolae: Like the nipple, it is also the visible external part of each breast. Areolae is a small, circular, pigmented skin surrounding the nipple. It has Montgomery’s glands (a type of oil glands), which secrete a lubricating oil. This lubricating oil keeps the germs away from the breast and also prevents contamination of breast milk.
  • Blood vessels: The breasts have an abundant breast supply. Multiple cosmetic (oncoplastic) procedures of the breast are planned around this supply.
  • Lymph vessels: These are the part of the lymphatic system, which helps in transporting lymph. Lymph is a clear, colourless fluid that helps the body’s immune system to fight infections. These lymph vessels are connected to the lymph nodes or gland located under the armpits, in the chest, or any other parts.
  • Nerves: The breast consists of several nerve endings, especially in the nipple and areola region. These nerves make the breast extremely sensitive to touch or arousal.

How does breast cancer develop?

In normal conditions, cells are programmed to grow, divide, and die at a specific time in the correct order. However, in some cases, when cells are damaged either due to mutations or inheritance of mutated genes, they develop abnormalities in the genes that instruct the cells how to behave. Over time, the accumulation of these abnormalities causes abnormal cell growth and division.

Breast cancer can develop in any part of the breast. If cancer begins in the ducts then it is referred to as ductal carcinoma, or if it develops within the lobules then it is referred to as lobular carcinoma.

How does breast cancer metastasize?

The primary tumour breaks and travel through the bloodstream or lymphatic system and spread to nearby organs or distant parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, bone, or brain. Breast cancer when spreads to other parts of the body is known as metastatic or stage-4 breast cancer. Although metastatic breast cancer can be treated, it cannot be cured.

Patient Resources

Types of Breast Cancer

Symptoms and Causes


Diagnosis and Treatment

Myths and Facts