Breast cancer is a disease where malignant cells form in the tissue of the breast. It is the second most common cancer type for women with 12.8% of women being diagnosed throughout their life. Even though most people think of women when it comes to breast cancer, roughly 1% of patients are male. Over 268,000 new cases last year alone. By far, the most common screening method for breast cancer is a mammogram. For those who have a family history or at a high risk of breast cancer, MRIs are also used.
The most common types of breast cancer include:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
- Metastatic breast cancer
- Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
- Triple negative
- Invasive lobular cancer (ILC)
Breast Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of breast cancer depend on a variety of factors including the type of breast cancer and the stage it is in. However, there are some symptoms most patients experience like:
- A lump or thickening in the breast that is different from the other tissue in the breast
- Changes in the shape, appearance, or size of the breast
- Redness or itching of the breast
- Dimpling or changes to the breast skin
- Changes like peeling, flaking, or scaling of the skin around the areola
Sometimes, there are other symptoms some patients may have, especially those with metastatic or advanced cases.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
Doctors do not know the exact cause of breast cancer. Breast cancer occurs when changes are made to the DNA of the cells within the breast. This change in DNA, or mutation, can be inherited from your parents, or developed over the course of your lifetime.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
The breast cancer cells typically begin growing in the milk-producing ducts. Family history does play a role in breast cancer through gene mutations. Other risk factors include:
- Radiation exposure
- Never being pregnant
- Women represent roughly 99% of the breast cancer population, so being female is also an inherent risk factor
Breast Cancer Prevention
There is no way to prevent hereditary breast cancer. It is recommended to get yearly screenings and perform self-examinations to ensure early detection if breast cancer does occur. You can also get genetic testing to understand your exact risk of it developing. Even without family history of breast cancer, these actions can ensure if cancer develops it is caught in early stages, when successful treatment is far more likely.
HER2 Positive Breast Cancer
HER2 positive breast cancer is confirmed when there are higher levels of the protein called HER2 in the tumor. This type of cancer is common in about 1 in 5 women diagnosed with breast cancer.
HER2 positive breast cancer cases have a higher likelihood of metastasis and recurrence, however the prognosis for each breast cancer is dependent on their unique cancer case. HER2 positive breast cancer tends to grow and spread faster than other breast cancers.
FGFR Breast Cancer
The receptors to which growth factors that support cell division bind are called growth factor receptors. Growth factors in the microenvironment outside of the cell binds to the growth factor receptor and enables the receptor to become active.
During normal cell functioning, growth factor receptors become active in certain situations and allow the cell to reproduce. However, with the accumulation of DNA damage or mutation, changes occur in the receptors. As a result of these changes, the receptor becomes constantly active and sends a continuous proliferation signal to the cell. In this case, cancerous cell formation occurs.
Breast cancer is a complex disease and some molecular factors regulate its progression. Fibroblast growth factor receptor signaling is often erratic in many cancers, including breast cancer. Because FGFR signals are involved in the pathogenesis and progression of tumors, FGFR targeted agents reveal a potential therapeutic option for breast cancer patients.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer
A triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) diagnosis means that the 3 most common types of receptors, (estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene), that feed many breast cancers, are not present in the tumor. In other words, the breast cancer cells tested negative for epidermal growth factor receptor 2, estrogen receptors, and progesterone receptors.
In the past, breast cancer was examined in two groups, sensitive and insensitive to the estrogen hormone. Today, breast cancer is divided into 4 main types according to receptors, that is, its biological characteristics.
- Luminal A (ER/PR positive, HER2 negative, Ki-67 low): Tumors sensitive to estrogen hormone (ER positive)
- Luminal B (ER/PR positive, HER2 negative OR positive, Ki-67 high): Tumors that are sensitive to estrogen hormone and/or also carry HER2 receptors (HER2 positive)
- HER2 positive: Tumors with HER2 receptor insensitive to estrogen hormone
- Triple negative: Tumors that do not carry estrogen hormone and HER2 receptors.
Metastatic Breast Cancer
Metastasis is a characteristic of cancerous cells and is the separation of cells in a tumor from the tissue they are in and migrate to other tissues and organs through blood, lymph or direct neighborhood. When cancer metastasizes, it is called stage 4.
It is difficult to define signs and symptoms specific to metastasis in breast cancer. Symptoms and complaints caused by breast cancer metastases vary according to the organ where the cells spread.
- Lung metastasis can be detected with complaints of shortness of breath (dyspnea) or abnormal lung findings during examination.
- Liver metastasis may occur with jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and right upper quadrant abdominal pain.
- Bone metastases often cause pain.
It is important to have regular check-ups in breast cancer patients who do not have metastatic disease, as these can help detect metastases early.
Clinical studies are ongoing for the Stage 4 breast cancer treatment. Some of these studies are focusing in specific biomarkers (e.g. PIK3CA, FGFR, BRCA)
Breast Cancer Treatment
Oncologists determine the appropriate method of treatment based on the stage, subtype, patient’s overall health, and genetic mutations of this type of cancer. The common treatment methods for cancer patients include:
- Surgery, for early, localized cases
- Radiation therapy, often used after surgery
- Chemotherapy, used before and after surgery, or in advanced cases
- Hormone therapy, alternative for women who can’t use chemotherapy
- Targeted therapy, used if common breast cancer genetic mutations are identified
- Immunotherapy, used in advanced cases or combined with chemotherapy
Breast Cancer Clinical Trials
There are approximately 958 breast cancer clinical trials that are currently recruiting patients in the United States right now. With such an extensive list, many of them could be beneficial for you. Our team of patient advocates, who are oncology nurses, and our artificial intelligence based clinical trial matching system will find the best option for you.
With just a few clicks, you can see your clinical trial matches now. Click here to use our advanced clinical trial match tool.
How Do We Help Breast Cancer Patients?
Massive Bio offers an independent cancer treatment analysis as well as free clinical trial matching for breast cancer patients. Our patient advocates work closely with patients to gather information on their current medical status, and then will provide a list of options from available cancer clinical trials close to your home.
We can also provide a comprehensive case analysis through our Virtual Tumor Board from cancer specialists. The Virtual Tumor Board (VTB) is comprised of highly specialized oncologists from nationally-recognized Cancer Centers of Excellence. In just 7-10 days after receiving your medical records, we can get you a treatment plan without having to travel far distances and use your valuable time.