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Breast cancer breakthrough as scientists discover potential way that could kill ‘hibernating’ tumour cells

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Breast cancer breakthroughs as scientists develop AI tools that can predict treatment side effects AND spot tiny signs of disease that human doctors miss

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Every year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the United States, it attacks 266,000 people each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?

What is breast cancer?

It comes from a cancer cell that develops in the lining of a duct or lobe of one of the breasts.

When breast cancer has spread to surrounding tissue, it is called “invasive.” Some people are diagnosed with “carcinoma in situ,” where cancer cells have not grown beyond the duct or lobe.

Most cases develop in people over 50 years of age, but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men, although this is rare.

Staging tells how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. Stage 1 is the earliest stage, and stage 4 means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.

Cancer cells are graded from low, meaning slow growing, to high, meaning fast growing. High-grade cancers are more likely to come back after they are first treated.

What causes breast cancer?

A cancerous tumor begins from an abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is believed that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This causes the cell to be abnormal and multiply “out of control.”

Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the likelihood, such as genetics.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most are non-cancerous and are fluid-filled cysts, which are benign.

The first place breast cancer usually spreads is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs, you will develop a swelling or lump in your armpit.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

  • Initial evaluation: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may perform tests such as a mammogram, a special x-ray of breast tissue that can indicate the possibility of tumors.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.

If it is confirmed that you have breast cancer, more tests may be needed to evaluate whether it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound of the liver, or a chest x-ray.

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How is breast cancer treated?

Treatment options that may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal treatment. A combination of two or more of these treatments is often used.

  • Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumor.
  • Radiation therapy: A treatment that uses high-energy radiation beams focused on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells or stops them from dividing. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: Treatment of cancer using anticancer drugs that kill cancer cells or stop them from dividing.
  • Hormonal treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the “female” hormone estrogen, which can stimulate cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments that lower the level of these hormones or stop them from working are commonly used in people with breast cancer.

How successful is the treatment?

The prognosis is better for those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small and has not spread. Surgically removing a tumor at an early stage may offer a good chance of cure.

Routine mammography offered to women aged 50 to 70 means that more breast cancers are diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

For more information, visit breastcancernow.org or call their free helpline on 0808 800 6000.

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