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What is Breast Cancer? How Breast Cancer Starts and Spreads.

An ever-improving scientific understanding of breast cancer and medical advancements have led to more success in tackling this disease. Understanding how breast cancer works and what to look for can help women catch the symptoms early on and prepare effectively for diagnosis and treatment. This may also help you make smart long-term financial decisions, such as applying for a cancer insurance policy. Let’s dive deeper into how breast cancer works, how it starts and spreads, and some common types.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease that occurs when cells in the breast tissue start growing in an uncontrolled way. Breast cancer often begins in the glands that produce milk or the ducts that carry it. It can spread to other parts of the body as it progresses.1 Most breast cancer patients are women, but men can get breast cancer too.

Cancer cells in one or both breasts may form tumors or lumps that lead patients to seek medical attention and get a diagnosis. However, it’s worth noting that many breast lumps are benign and not cancerous. They may be abnormal, but they do not spread and are not life-threatening. That said, it’s a good idea to get any lumps or abnormalities in the breast checked out by a healthcare professional just in case.2

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How and where does breast cancer start?

Breast cancer can start when abnormal cells in the breast multiply uncontrollably to form tumors. Benign tumors are not cancerous by themselves but may be correlated with an increased risk of breast cancer later on.2 Malignant tumors are cancerous and may grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Different breast cancers can begin in different parts of the breast. Lobular cancers originate in the lobules, or the glands that produce milk. Ductal cancers start in the ducts, which are tubes that carry milk. Ducts are the most common area of origin for breast cancer. Less common types of breast cancer may start out in the nipple or areola, the breast's fat and connective tissue, or the blood and lymph vessels.2

How does breast cancer spread?

Cancer can spread to lymph nodes nearby, though at this stage, the cancer is still a local disease. When cancer cells enter the blood or lymph system and travel to other parts of the body, cancer can spread to other areas, including the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. This happens in the advanced stages of the disease and is called metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic cancer is most commonly diagnosed after a patient has already received treatment for an earlier stage (local) form of breast cancer.3

Types of breast cancer

There are many different types of breast cancers, and they may be described or classified in different ways based on how they look under a microscope and where they originate. Breast cancers may be invasive or non-invasive. The former is more common and may spread to other parts of the body, while the latter remains largely restricted to the lobules. Here are several types in more detail:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ: This is a non-invasive pre-cancer.
  • Invasive or infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC): This is the most common type of breast cancer. IDC starts out in the cells that line the milk ducts, spreading at first to nearby tissues and ultimately to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph system.4
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: This type of cancer originates in the milk-producing lobules and can spread to other parts of the body if left unchecked.4
  • Triple-negative breast cancer: When breast cancer cells test negative for estrogen or progesterone receptors as well as HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2), the tumor is known as triple negative. This invasive cancer may be more common among younger women and those with a mutation in the BRCA1 gene.3
  • Inflammatory breast cancer: The abnormal cells associated with this aggressive cancer block lymph vessels in the skin, creating an inflamed appearance. Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, only accounting for a small percentage of cases.5
  • Other rare breast cancers: There are many other rare cancers that affect different breast tissues, such as Paget’s disease of the breast (affects the nipple and areola), angiosarcoma (affects the cells that line the blood or lymph vessels), Phyllodes tumor (starts in the connective tissue of the breast).5

Benefits of getting cancer insurance in case of a breast cancer diagnosis

While primary health insurance may help many families navigate a cancer diagnosis, supplemental cancer insurance can help bridge gaps in coverage and provide additional benefits that many patients may need. Here are a few ways that the right cancer insurance can help make life easier for patients:

Use the benefits to help cover any expenses

Unlike health insurance payments, which go directly to the hospital or medical center, cancer insurance payouts go to you, the policyholder, unless otherwise assigned. You can then use the funds to help cover any expenses you need. This could mean using them to help pay for medication and treatments or even rent, groceries, and bills.

Get affordable coverage that fits most budgets

The cost of cancer insurance is determined by many factors, including your age, location, and desired benefits. However, Aflac plans are an affordable option for many patients with different needs. Chat with an Aflac agent to get a quote.

Gain added peace of mind

Managing cancer can be easier with the right financial resources. Even with primary health insurance, you may still need financial help covering costs, depending on the type of cancer and the treatments recommended. Cancer insurance can help ease the financial burden you may face and provide added peace of mind.

Get cancer insurance from Aflac

With a strong support system and continuous medical advances, many cancer patients may recover and live exceptional lives. While it may be important for patients to find support groups and networks, they can also better rely on a good cancer insurance policy for additional financial support. Aflac offers affordable supplemental cancer insurance to suit a wide array of needs and budgets. Consider chatting with an agent about your specific needs and getting a quote today.

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