Breast Cancer Centre
Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of breast cells. To better understand breast cancer, it helps to understand how any form of cancer can develop.
Many things may cause the “wear and tear” that lead to abnormal cell growth – pollutants, hormones, pesticides, smoking, alcohol use, obesity, stress, etc. Sometimes cells just make a mistake one day while producing new genes to pass on to new cells. Perhaps there is a “misprint” in the genetic “instruction manual” that says switch “growth on” instead of “growth off”.
Cancer occurs as a result of mutations, or abnormal changes in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy. The genes are in each cell’s nucleus, which acts as the “control room” of the cell. Normally the cells in our bodies replace themselves through an orderly process of cell growth: healthy new cells take over as old ones die out. But over time mutations can turn on certain genes in a cell and turn off others. The changed cell then gains the ability to keep dividing without control or order, producing more cells just like it and forming a tumour.
A tumour can be benign (not dangerous to health) or malignant (has the potential to be dangerous). Benign tumours are not considered cancerous; their cells are close to normal in appearance, they grow slowly, and they do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumours, on the other hand, are cancerous. Left unchecked, malignant cells can spread beyond the original tumour to other parts of the body.
The term “breast cancer” refers to a malignant tumour that has developed from cells in the breast. Usually breast cancer either begins in the cells of the lobules (the milk-producing glands), or the ducts (the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple). Less commonly, breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissues, which include the fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast.
Over time, cancer cells can invade nearby healthy breast tissue and make their way into the underarm lymph nodes, which are the small glands that filter out foreign substances in the body. When cancer cells get into the lymph nodes, they have a pathway into other parts of the body. In defining the stage of breast cancer, reference is made to how far the cancer cells have spread beyond the original tumour.
Breast cancer is always caused by a genetic abnormality (a mistake in the genetic material). However, only 5 to 10% of cancers are due to an abnormality inherited from parents. About 90% of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that happen as a result of the aging process and the “wear and tear” of life in general.
While there are steps every person can take to help the body stay as healthy as possible (such as eating a balanced diet, not smoking, limiting alcohol and exercising regularly), breast cancer is never anyone’s fault. Feeling guilty, or telling yourself that breast cancer happened because of something you or anyone else did, is not productive.
Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about breast cancer. Call us on the EWP number or email us at
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