The medical term 'Malignant Breast Disease' refers to breast cancer that is highly likely to become progressively worse. The word 'malignant' literally means 'born bad' in Latin and this description differentiates malignant breast disease from the less serious benign breast disease.
Malignant breast disease is a form of breast disease that is very likely to spread to other tissue within the body, either adjacent tissue or, via the bloodstream and/or lymphatic system, to more distant tissue, thus spreading cancer throughout the body.
Breast cancer is common, affecting up to one in eight women during their lives. Although the disease is primarily associated with women, men can also suffer from breast disease, although it is a lot less common.
In women breast cancer is the most common form of cancer and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths.
Many factors may influence the likelihood of development of breast cancer – medical studies have indicated that diet, alcohol intake, family history, onset of menstruation and menopause, whether or not a woman has children and whether she breastfeeds her children all may have an impact. The following are regarded as potential risk factors:
- age – prevalence of breast cancer increases substantially after age 50 (half of all breast cancer diagnoses are in women over age 65)
- a diet high in saturated fat
- obesity after menopause
- a lack of physical activity/exercise
- alcohol intake greater than two units per day
- a family history of breast cancer (although most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease) – a more important marker is whether family members suffered breast cancer prior to menopause
- whether a woman has had children or not – women having children at an older age (over 26) are at slightly higher risk
- early menstruation (at or before age 12) and/or late menopause (after age 50)
In addition some medical treatments may lead to an increase in risk factor, such as oestrogen replacement therapy (if the treatment continues for over 10 years) and any prior radiation therapy to the chest area, to treat Hodgkins Disease for example.
Early symptoms of breast cancer may include:
- a lump in the breast
- any change in the shape of the breast
- a change to the skin of the breast, for example dimples in the skin or scaly or red nipples or skin
- a fluid discharge from the nipple
If you have had a diagnosis of breast cancer you may have heard the term “staging” being used. Staging in breast cancer is complex and is rarely used clinically. The factors that affect prognosis in breast cancer are:
- Grade of Tumour
- Size of Tumour
- Hormone receptor status
- HER2 receptor status
- Number of lymph nodes affected
- Distant disease
More and more patients with breast cancer are surviving due to early breast screening and advancing treatments. Issues relating to life after cancer become a significant part of ongoing surveillance and management of breast cancer, this is referred to as Survivorship.
Dr Gault offers information about treatment options for malignant breast disease, including: