Breast Cancer

Last Updated: October 12, 2022

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after skin cancer. It affects men very rarely. It is most treatable when caught early, therefore it is important to do regular breast exams and regular physician visits.

Breast Cancer falls under theCancerandWomen’s Healthcategories.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer starts in the breast tissue, starts growing uncontrollably, and usually becomes a solid tumor. In the United States, it is the second most common type of cancer in women and it only rarely occurs in men. Most often, breast cancer starts in the ducts, which are the tubes that carry breast milk to the nipple.[1]

What are the main signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

Some symptoms of breast cancer include:[1]

  • A new lump or thickening in or around the breast or armpit (note that often breast lumps are found to be non-cancerous)
  • Pain in breast area or change in breast shape/size
  • Breast skin dimpling or puckering, or a nipple turned inward
  • Unusual nipple discharge (e.g. bloody, sudden, one sided) other than breast milk
  • Scaly, red, or swollen skin in the nipple area or the breast
How is breast cancer diagnosed?

Breast cancer is suspected after a clinical breast exam which is positive for lumps or unusual changes with the breasts and armpits. A diagnosis is made after extensive testing including imaging tests (mammogram, ultrasound), breast biopsy, blood chemistry tests, and genetic tests. After a diagnosis is made, further testing is done to characterize the breast cancer. For example, tests for progesterone/estrogen receptor density and cancer metastasis are completed to personalize treatment options.[1]

What are some of the main medical treatments for breast cancer?

Medical treatments usually include surgery to remove the tumor and some breast tissue around it (lumpectomy), surgery to remove the whole breast (mastectomy), radiation treatment, and/or chemotherapy. Other common treatments for breast cancer include hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.[1]

Have any supplements been studied for breast cancer?

Research on the use of dietary supplements for breast cancer is limited. Some supplements assessed for benefit in breast cancer include vitamin C, vitamin D, beta-carotene, and turkey tail (Coriolus versicolor).[2] There is also interest in supplements like EPA and DHA for reducing the side effects of breast cancer chemotherapy.[3]

How could diet affect breast cancer?

A nutritious and balanced diet high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, unrefined cereals, and low in saturated fats and red meat has been linked with increased survival in those diagnosed with breast cancer and better tolerability of medical treatments for breast cancer. Certain chemotherapy drugs cause depletion of certain nutrients from the body, therefore a nutrient rich and balanced diet is imperative to prevent deficiencies.[3] Diets such as the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet, anti-inflammatory diets have been associated with improved outcomes and quality of life in patients treated for breast cancer.[4]

Are there any other treatments for breast cancer?

From the preventative standpoint, lifestyle interventions such as adequate exercise, limiting alcohol, limiting hormone therapy, and breastfeeding have been associated with reduced risk for developing breast cancer.[1] Some evidence suggests that mind-body modalities such as yoga and mindfulness can improve quality of life and mood disturbances in patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.[5][6]

What causes breast cancer?

Although the exact cause is not known, breast cancer typically starts with genetic material (DNA) mutations which are either inherited or developed from lifestyle and/or environment. Certain factors that are linked to increased risk of breast cancer include: older age, history of breast disease, BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, obesity and alcohol use. Also, increased exposure to estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer and occurs in conditions such as early menstruation, late menopause, hormone therapy for menopause, and either never giving birth or giving birth at an older age.[1]

Examine Database: Breast Cancer
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  1. ^Breast Cancer
  2. ^Salas S, Cottet V, Dossus L, Fassier P, Ginhac J, Latino-Martel P, Romieu I, Schneider S, Srour B, Touillaud M, Touvier M, Ancellin RNutritional Factors during and after Cancer: Impacts on Survival and Quality of Life.Nutrients.(2022-Jul-19)
  3. ^De Cicco P, Catani MV, Gasperi V, Sibilano M, Quaglietta M, Savini INutrition and Breast Cancer: A Literature Review on Prevention, Treatment and Recurrence.Nutrients.(2019-Jul-03)
  4. ^Cava E, Marzullo P, Farinelli D, Gennari A, Saggia C, Riso S, Prodam FBreast Cancer Diet "BCD": A Review of Healthy Dietary Patterns to Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence and Reduce Mortality.Nutrients.(2022-Jan-21)
  5. ^Yi LJ, Tian X, Jin YF, Luo MJ, Jiménez-Herrera MFEffects of yoga on health-related quality, physical health and psychological health in women with breast cancer receiving chemotherapy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.Ann Palliat Med.(2021-Feb)
  6. ^Schell LK, Monsef I, Wöckel A, Skoetz NMindfulness-based stress reduction for women diagnosed with breast cancer.Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(2019-03-27)
  7. ^PDQ Screening and Prevention Editorial BoardBreast Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Health Professional Version
  8. ^Duffy SW, Tabár L, Yen AM, Dean PB, Smith RA, Jonsson H, Törnberg S, Chen SL, Chiu SY, Fann JC, Ku MM, Wu WY, Hsu CY, Chen YC, Svane G, Azavedo E, Grundström H, Sundén P, Leifland K, Frodis E, Ramos J, Epstein B, Åkerlund A, Sundbom A, Bordás P, Wallin H, Starck L, Björkgren A, Carlson S, Fredriksson I, Ahlgren J, Öhman D, Holmberg L, Chen THMammography screening reduces rates of advanced and fatal breast cancers: Results in 549,091 women.Cancer.(2020-07-01)
  9. ^Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
Examine Database References
  1. Breast Cancer Risk - Schernhammer ES, Berrino F, Krogh V, Secreto G, Micheli A, Venturelli E, Grioni S, Sempos CT, Cavalleri A, Schünemann HJ, Strano S, Muti PUrinary 6-Sulphatoxymelatonin levels and risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women: the ORDET cohortCancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev.(2010 Mar)
  2. Estrogen - Schernhammer ES, Giobbie-Hurder A, Gantman K, Savoie J, Scheib R, Parker LM, Chen WYA randomized controlled trial of oral melatonin supplementation and breast cancer biomarkersCancer Causes Control.(2012 Apr)
  3. Breast Cancer Risk - Crew KD, Gammon MD, Steck SE, Hershman DL, Cremers S, Dworakowski E, Shane E, Terry MB, Desai M, Teitelbaum SL, Neugut AI, Santella RMAssociation between plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D and breast cancer riskCancer Prev Res (Phila).(2009 Jun)
  4. Breast Cancer Risk - Garland CF, Gorham ED, Mohr SB, Grant WB, Giovannucci EL, Lipkin M, Newmark H, Holick MF, Garland FCVitamin D and prevention of breast cancer: pooled analysisJ Steroid Biochem Mol Biol.(2007 Mar)
  5. Aromatase-Inhibitor Related Joint Pain - Qamar J Khan, Pavan S Reddy, Bruce F Kimler, Priyanka Sharma, Susan E Baxa, Anne P O'Dea, Jennifer R Klemp, Carol J FabianEffect of vitamin D supplementation on serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels, joint pain, and fatigue in women starting adjuvant letrozole treatment for breast cancerBreast Cancer Res Treat.(2010 Jan)
  6. Breast Cancer Risk - Schwingshackl, L., et al.Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Cancer: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisNutrients.(2017-09-26)
  7. Cancer Mortality - Chen G, Leary S, Niu J, Perry R, Papadaki AThe Role of the Mediterranean Diet in Breast Cancer Survivorship: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies and Randomised Controlled Trials.Nutrients.(2023-Apr-27)
  8. DNA methylation - Zhu W, Qin W, Zhang K, Rottinghaus GE, Chen YC, Kliethermes B, Sauter ERTrans-resveratrol alters mammary promoter hypermethylation in women at increased risk for breast cancerNutr Cancer.(2012 Apr)
  9. Menopausal Symptoms - Atkinson C, Warren RM, Sala E, Dowsett M, Dunning AM, Healey CS, Runswick S, Day NE, Bingham SARed-clover-derived isoflavones and mammographic breast density: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial ISRCTN42940165Breast Cancer Res.(2004)
  10. Menopausal Symptoms - Matthias Rostock, Julia Fischer, Andreas Mumm, Ute Stammwitz, Reinhard Saller, Hans Helge BartschBlack cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) in tamoxifen-treated breast cancer patients with climacteric complaints - a prospective observational studyGynecol Endocrinol.(2011 Oct)
  11. Menopausal Symptoms - Jacobson JS, Troxel AB, Evans J, Klaus L, Vahdat L, Kinne D, Lo KM, Moore A, Rosenman PJ, Kaufman EL, Neugut AI, Grann VRRandomized trial of black cohosh for the treatment of hot flashes among women with a history of breast cancerJ Clin Oncol.(2001 May 15)
  12. Breast Density - E Lundström, A L Hirschberg, G SöderqvistDigitized assessment of mammographic breast density--effects of continuous combined hormone therapy, tibolone and black cohosh compared to placeboMaturitas.(2011 Dec)
  13. Menopausal Symptoms - Ma H, Sullivan-Halley J, Smith AW, Neuhouser ML, Alfano CM, Meeske K, George SM, McTiernan A, McKean-Cowdin R, Baumgartner KB, Ballard-Barbash R, Bernstein LEstrogenic botanical supplements, health-related quality of life, fatigue, and hormone-related symptoms in breast cancer survivors: a HEAL study reportBMC Complement Altern Med.(2011 Nov 8)
  14. Estrogen - Ikuko Kijima, Sheryl Phung, Gene Hur, Sum-Ling Kwok, Shiuan ChenGrape seed extract is an aromatase inhibitor and a suppressor of aromatase expressionCancer Res.(2006 Jun 1)
  15. Depression Symptoms - Sue Gessler, Michael King, Alessandra Lemma, Julie Barber, Louise Jones, Susan Dunning, Val Madden, Stephen Pilling, Rachael Hunter, Peter Fonagy, Karen Summerville, Nicola MacDonald, Adeola Olaitan, Anne LanceleyStepped approach to improving sexual function after gynaecological cancer: the SAFFRON feasibility RCTHealth Technol Assess.(2019 Feb)
  16. Depression Symptoms - Zhao H, Zhang Q, Zhao L, Huang X, Wang J, Kang XSpore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical TrialEvid Based Complement Alternat Med.(2012)
  17. Anxiety Symptoms - Henderson VP, Clemow L, Massion AO, Hurley TG, Druker S, Hébert JRThe effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on psychosocial outcomes and quality of life in early-stage breast cancer patients: a randomized trialBreast Cancer Res Treat.(2012 Jan)
  18. Natural Killer Cell Activity - Torkelson CJ, Sweet E, Martzen MR, Sasagawa M, Wenner CA, Gay J, Putiri A, Standish LJPhase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast CancerISRN Oncol.(2012)
  19. Dermatitis Risk - Sharp L, Finnilä K, Johansson H, Abrahamsson M, Hatschek T, Bergenmar MNo differences between Calendula cream and aqueous cream in the prevention of acute radiation skin reactions--results from a randomised blinded trial.Eur J Oncol Nurs.(2013-Aug)
  20. Dermatitis Risk - Pommier P, Gomez F, Sunyach MP, D'Hombres A, Carrie C, Montbarbon XPhase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer.J Clin Oncol.(2004-Apr-15)
  21. Dermatitis Risk - De Angelis C, Di Stadio A, Vitale S, Saccone G, Angelis MC, Zizolfi B, Di Spiezio Sardo AUse of calendula ointment after episiotomy: a randomized clinical trial.J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med.(2022-May)