Our entire body is composed of cells which contain their own DNA (genetic blueprint). In a healthy body, cells divide at a controlled rate and are used for growth and tissue repair and replacement. If cells keep multiplying when new ones are not needed, a mass of tissue cells develops causing a growth or tumour. These tumours can form anywhere in the body and can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
A malignant tumour that forms in breast tissue is called breast cancer. Malignant tumours grow uncontrollably and interfere with normal organ and metabolic functioning and have the ability to metastasize (spread to other parts of the body) and invade other organs or tissues. Breast cancer spreads principally through the lymph system and metastases are frequently found in the lungs, liver, brain and bone. In the resource section, there is an easy to follow chart of The Cancer Process.
There are several different types of breast cancers, depending on where the tumours develop, with different doubling times and levels of metastases. Most often cancer cells start within the ducts (ductal carcinoma) or within the glands (lobular carcinoma). Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. (Canadian Cancer Society)
While a diagnosis of cancer can be frightening, the tumour itself is a symptom of a systemic underlying problem or combination of issues. When the immune system is healthy, it can kill off cells that have mutated and are not working properly. So the tumour is a symptom of an impaired immune system. There are many factors causing abnormal cell growth, including damage from free radicals and imbalanced hormones.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, with more than one million cases occurring worldwide annually and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer for Canadian women is one in nine. In 2010, it is estimated that 23,200 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer (only 180 men) and 5,300 will die from it (50 men). The 5-year survival rate is about 87 percent for women (84% for men). (Canadian Cancer Society)