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How does breast cancer start?

South Texas Breast Cancer Surgeon Explains How Cancer Starts

· breast cancer,Breast Surgery,Cancer Awareness

Breast cancer technically starts the same way other cancers start, when one of the 100 million cells in our body is mutated and begins to multiply too quickly.  The key here is two-fold: 

1. You have to have a mutated cell

2. That cell has to begin multiplying out of control

Cancers First Step - A Mutated Cell

The truth is, most of us have cells that are damaged in some form or fashion but they don't typically cause too many problems all on their own - we call these "mutated" cells.  Unless babies inherit a specific genetic mutation from their parents they typically have super healthy cells because their tiny bodies haven't been exposed to very much "bad". But over time, our exposure to outside forces cause gene damage - the sun, cigarette smoke, other chemicals, a poor diet, radiation, and even some infections can all cause genetic mutations. Thus, we get a greater number of mutated cells as we get older. This is why our risk of cancer increases as we age - simply because we have more mutated cells that have a "risk" of multiplying.

Cancers Second Step - Multiplication

Each of the 200 different types of cells in our body divide, multiply, and die according to what our body needs to survive. So if everything works perfectly, we always have exactly the right number of liver cells, white blood cells, and all of other types of cells to keep up alive and healthy. The problem occurs when a set of these cells starts to multiply out of control - cancerous cells multiply exponentially and don't die off like other cells. The technical definition of a cancer cell is a cell that has become "immortal".

So if you go back to your high school math class, 1 cell turns into 2, those 2 cells turn into 4, those 4 into 16, the 16 into 256, and the 256 into a whopping 65,536 mutated cells! Now it begins to be a little easier to understand how cancer can affect people so quickly. By the time each of the 65,536 cancerous cells each multiply only once, a person has over 4 billion cancer cells in their body. So depending on how quickly those cells are multiplying, cancer can spread very very quickly. This is why we try to see patients so quickly after a breast cancer diagnosis - to stop these immortal cells from multiplying before they invade other parts of the body.

So where does breast cancer start?

Most breast cancers begin in our lobules, or the glands and ducts in our breasts responsible for milk production. Why? Because this is where your breast "cells" are located - most of the rest of your breast is made up of fatty tissue, connective tissues, and lymphatic tissues. As breast cancer grows, it takes over more of the surrounding breast tissue, and can even break through the tissue to completely separate systems of the body. When this happens, for example, when breast cancer spreads and begins to travel through your blood or lymph vessels, we say that it has "metastasized".


Catching breast cancer early makes a huge difference

Metastatic breast cancer is even harder to treat and control than localized breast cancer, because then all of the affected systems have to be treated. Thus, our goal is to try to diagnose breast cancer at its earliest possible stage and completely remove every single cancerous cell from your body. The earlier we catch the cancer, or tumor, the less breast tissue we have to remove. This is why sometimes we can remove a breast cancer tumor with lumpectomy (breast conserving surgery where we simply remove the tumor itself), and sometimes we have to perform a full mastectomy (removal of the entire breast because the entire breast contains cancerous cells).

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