What is cancer?
Actually, this taboo word comes from centuries old mythological thought, where this illness was compared to a crab, probably because of its unpredictable progress and its legs, suggesting the spread and infiltration of cancer.
Nowadays, we still don’t know the exact meaning and the causes of this disease. We do know that it is caused by an abnormal multiplication of cells from a point in our body.
Normally, cells grow, develop, and die in a balanced process designed to fill the needs of the organism. But when this process is altered, the cells stop differentiating and maturing appropriately, and begin to multiply chaotically. The result of this excessive multiplication of cells is a tumor. In this particular case, breast cancer.
The cancerous cells can pass from the original tumor into the lymph system or the bloodstream. In this way metastasis is produced in lymph nodes or organs. There the cells form colonies, they adapt to the new tissue, and begin growing again.
So what is breast cancer?
The growth of cancerous tissue in a mammary gland is called breast cancer.
When was breast cancer discovered?
Breast cancer is one of the first types of cancer to be discovered and described. There is data about tumors in breasts in ancient Egyptian medicine, and Greek and Roman medicine makes concrete reference to malignant neoplastias.
On one of the pages of the papyrus manuscript Ebers, discovered in 1872, and thought to date from 3,000 years BC, 8 women with breast cancer are mentioned. They didn’t use the word “cancer”, as it wasn’t until the 4th century BC that Hipocrates, the “father of modern medicine”, coined the term.
At the beginning of the first millennium, Celso tried to remove breast tumors.
In 1290, doctor Lanfranchi established the principles of scientific surgery. He proposed a strategy that later would be quite significant: early radical treatment for breast cancer.
In the 17th century Doctor Wiseman, an excellent surgeon, designed and put into practice concrete indicators of the possibility of recovery, depending on how extensive the affected area was. For Wiseman, cancer was a local injury (that could be cured by surgery) that spread through the lymph conducts and tended to recur.
The 19th century saw great progresses made in surgical procedures, thanks to the discovery of anesthesia, by Morton, and antiseptics, by Semmelweiss. The first great schools of surgery were instituted.
Doctor Halsted introduced radical mastectomy as a treatment for breast cancer, which involved removing the breast, the major and minor pectoral muscles, and the lymphatic tissue (lymph nodes) in the armpit.
With Halsted the process of attempting to cure breast cancer began.
What are the components of the breast?
The breast is composed of firstly, the milk producing glands, and secondly, the conducts or ducts that carry milk from the lobes to the nipple. The breast is also formed by a layer of tissue, called the stroma, that sustains the lobes and the ducts. The stroma is formed by fatty tissue and ligaments found around the lobes and ducts, veins and arteries, and also by the conducts that transport lymph fluid, lymph conducts.
What is lymph fluid?
Lymph fluid is composed of immune defense system cells, called lymphocytes. Lymph fluid also contains waste products.
What has lymph fluid got to do with breast cancer?
A lot, since the lymph conducts lead to the armpit and the lymph nodes located there, and thus are potential routes for the spread of cancer cells from the tumor. As we will see, this aspect is very important regarding the prognostic and treatment of the illness.
What are lymph nodes?
They are bean shaped, and are found throughout the entire body. They contain accumulations of lymphocytes If they are affected by cells from the breast tumor, there is more of a risk that the illness has spread to other parts of the body.