How does breast cancer grow and spread?
To grow, malignant breast tumors need to be fed. They get nourishment by developing new blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. The new blood vessels supply the tumor with nutrients that promote growth. As the malignant breast tumor grows, it can expand into nearby tissue. This process is called invasion. Cells can also break away from the primary, or main tumor and spread to other parts of the body. The cells spread by traveling through the blood stream and/or
lymphatic system. This process is called metastasis.
When malignant breast cells appear in a new location, they begin to divide and grow out of control again as they create another tumor. Even though the new tumor is growing in another part of the body, it is still called breast cancer. The most common locations of metastatic breast cancer are the lungs, liver, bones and brain.
Why does breast cancer grow?
We all have genes that control the way our cells divide and grow. When these genes do not work like they should, a genetic error, or mutation, has occurred. Mutations may be inherited or spontaneous. Inherited mutations are ones you were born with — an abnormal gene that one of your parents passed on to you at birth. Inherited mutations of specific genes, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and other cancers. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes.
Inherited mutations account for about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases in the U.S.1 Spontaneous mutations occur within your body during your lifetime. Spontaneous mutations account for about 90 to 95 percent of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. The actual cause or causes of mutations still remains unknown. Researchers have identified two types of genes that are important to cell growth. Errors in these genes turn normal cells into cancerous ones.
Cells can grow out of control before any symptoms of the disease appear. That is why breast screening to find early changes is so important. If breast canceris found early, there are more treatment options and improved chance for survival.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure® recommends that women 40 years and older have a mammogram every year. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, talk with your doctor about your personal risk, including when to start getting mammograms and how often to have them.
If your mother or sister had breast cancer before menopause, you may need to start getting mammograms or other tests and yearly clinical breast exams before age 40. It is important for all women to have clinical breast exams at least every three years starting at age 20 and every year after age 40.