Breast cancer: causes, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

A lump in the breast can be malignant, but in three quarters of the cases it is harmless. For example, it could also be a cyst or a connective tissue growth. Breast cancer is a malignant tumor in the breast, the risk of breast cancer increases with age. Occasionally the cancer is the result of an abnormal gene. In mid-May 2013, American actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had had both her breasts preventively removed due to her genetic predisposition to developing cancer.

Article content

  • Chest
  • Breast cancer
  • Causes of breast cancer
  • Breast cancer symptoms
  • Breast cancer complications
  • Breast cancer diagnosis
  • Breast cancer treatment
  • Breast cancer prognosis
  • Fables
  • Angelina Jolie preventively removes both breasts
  • Hyperthermia in breast cancer: fat globules with chemo
  • Breath test possible replacement for mammogram in population survey (March 2014)



Another word for breast is mamma. A breast is a curve shaped by the mammary gland. A woman’s breasts are one of the secondary sexual characteristics of women. They form during puberty due to hormones from the ovaries. Breast development can also occur in boys: gynecomastia. It occurs in boys during puberty, probably because quite a lot of male hormone is temporarily converted into female hormone. Gynecomastia usually goes away within a year.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that originates in the breast. It is one of the most common cancers in women. You have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. It varies greatly by age, if you are thirty then you have a chance of one in almost two hundred in the next ten years, but if you are fifty then you have to take into account a chance of one in thirty-five. The risk of breast cancer therefore increases with age. Men can also get breast cancer; approximately one in one hundred and fifty to two hundred people with breast cancer is a man. The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing, but the number of deaths has decreased slightly in recent years. This is probably due to positive developments in treatment and chest X-rays are taken more often for screening.

Causes of breast cancer

It is usually not clear what causes breast cancer, but there are elements that increase the risk. It is possible, but not certain, that estrogen (female hormone) plays a role in the development of breast cancer.
Risk factors:

  • Getting your period for the first time before the age of eleven.
  • Come into transition late
  • If you take hormones against the symptoms of menopause for more than two to three years, this increases the risk. If you stop taking hormones, the risk of breast cancer decreases.
  • If you drink more than one alcoholic drink every day for a longer period of time, the risk of breast cancer increases.
  • If you are overweight after menopause, this increases the risk of breast cancer. The fatty tissue increases estrogen levels.
  • Delaying having children increases the risk of breast cancer. Of course, several factors play a role and it cannot always be influenced.
  • Sometimes a woman with breast cancer has an innate gene that is abnormal. Breast cancer of hereditary origin mainly occurs in women between the ages of thirty and fifty. Men can get it too.


Breast cancer symptoms

In the beginning, breast cancer usually has no symptoms. If someone does develop complaints, it will usually be in one breast.

  • A lump that lies just under the skin or further into the breast;
  • The lump usually does not hurt;
  • The nipple may be inverted;
  • Some blood may come from the nipple;
  • The skin may appear wrinkled near the lump, reminiscent of the peel of an orange.

In Paget’s disease, slightly dry skin on the nipple that flakes, may be the only symptom.

Breast cancer complications

Tumors can spread to other organs such as the lungs and liver before they are discovered. A tumor that starts in the milk ducts can lead to Paget’s disease. A change in the skin on the nipples that is reminiscent of eczema can be caused by this rare form of cancer. The difference with eczema is that Paget’s disease almost never occurs on both nipples and it does not heal on its own. The nipple often hurts and some blood is released. You also often see a lump there.

Breast cancer diagnosis

It is important that you regularly examine your breasts and see if there are any lumps or other abnormalities. Participating in the population screening is important, mammography is used, which is a reliable way to detect breast cancer. It is true that cancer is not always detected at a very early stage and the tumor can of course also arise between two examinations. Self-control is therefore important! Women between the ages of fifty and seventy-five receive a call for a mammography every two years (at no cost to you). If you go to the doctor with complaints, he or she will examine the breast to see whether there are enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits. If there is a lump or other symptoms of cancer in the breast, a mammogram or ultrasound will be performed. The doctor can remove some cells from the lump with a needle and have them examined. If it concerns cancer, it will be checked whether or not there are metastases.

Breast cancer treatment

The choice of treatment will depend on the size of the tumor in the breast, whether there are metastases (lymph nodes, rest of the body) and whether the tumor is susceptible to estrogen. If someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, it can be very impactful and help may be needed to cope with the situation.
The options for treatment:

  • To operate;
  • Irradiation;
  • Chemotherapy;
  • Therapy with hormones;
  • Immunotherapy;
  • Often a combination.


Breast cancer prognosis

You can die from the disease, but many women also survive the disease. The chance of a woman still being alive after ten years in the Netherlands is about seventy-five percent. Eighty-five percent are still alive after five years.


There are many misconceptions about breast cancer and these can lead to a lot of fear.

  • A woman with large breasts has a higher risk of breast cancer, that is not true. The size of the breasts does not affect the chance of developing breast cancer.
  • The fact that breast cancer always starts with pain is also a fiction. Pain is almost never the first complaint of breast cancer. Always go to your doctor if you have any complaints.
  • Stress can cause (breast) cancer: so far no link has been found.
  • Wearing a bra with underwire would increase the risk of breast cancer: this is not true.
  • Only women can get breast cancer: this is not true, men can also get breast cancer (about eighty-five men per year).
  • Breast cancer is always hereditary: this is not true, heredity plays a role in less than twenty percent of women with breast cancer.


Angelina Jolie preventively removes both breasts

In mid-May 2013, American actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had had both her breasts preventively removed due to her genetic predisposition to developing cancer. The actress lost her mother to cancer at a young age. She would have a fifty percent chance of ovarian cancer and even an eighty-seven percent chance of breast cancer. Jolie writes this in the New York Times, in which she explains that she is a carrier of the infamous BRCA1 gene. Carriers of that gene have a seriously increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her chance of developing breast cancer has dropped to less than five percent.

Hyperthermia in breast cancer: fat globules with chemo

These are fat globules that contain chemo and melt at a temperature higher than body heat. The beads are microscopically small and release the cell-inhibiting drug on a tumor that is locally heated. The chemo is delivered immediately and in larger quantities to the tissue where it is needed. Other organs and healthy tissue are damaged less or not at all. Fewer side effects are also expected to occur. In 2014, doctors and researchers at the UMC (University Medical Center) in Utrecht will start applying this treatment to people with breast cancer.

Breath test possible replacement for mammogram in population survey (March 2014)

A breath test can effectively determine in six minutes whether a woman has breast cancer. It is a safe test (no X-rays) and does not cause pain, unlike the current method (mammogram). This has emerged from a study conducted by researchers from Maastricht University Medical Center and Maastro Clinic. The results of the study were published on March 5, 2014 in PLOS ONE, an international scientific journal. The test is based on the fact that women with breast cancer contain different substances in the air they exhale than women who do not have breast cancer. If someone has a positive breath test, additional tests must be done to confirm or rule out breast cancer.

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