Considering the fact that breast cancer is the most common type of female cancer, it helps to understand the mechanism of breast cancer cells, how they operate and how they are different from normal or healthy cells. This helps us understand what impact cancer can have and why it is so dangerous.
How are breast cancer cells different from normal cells?
The DNA of cancer cells is different from that of normal cells which is why they grow in an abnormal fashion. They have more numbers of chromosomes, and the cells grow in a random and uncontrolled fashion, forming abnormal masses called tumors. It is the fact that the cancer cells have mutated in some way that causes them to behave differently than normal cells.
Cancer cells are also abnormal in that they are not equipped with the inhibitory factors of normal cells. Cancer cells also have a higher metabolic rate so whereas normal cells stop growing after they reach a certain size, cancer cells do not.
Breast cancer cells also multiply in an unchecked manner and reproduce more than normal cells.
The main point of difference between normal, healthy cells and cancer cells is that of malignancy and invasiveness. Cancer cells invade and harm the healthy tissues that surround them, which is why they cause destructive tumors, pain and other abnormalities in the body.
Also cancer cells travel, which is why when a cancer is detected late, it is often travelled or metastasized to different parts of the body causing more damage and more tumors at sites other than those of the primary cancer.
Cancerous cells break away from the original site of the cancer, and then start to migrate. So when the primary breast cancer cells get into the blood stream or the body’s lymphatic system, they can migrate to distant sites causing secondary cancers in the bone, liver, lung and brain.
The terms used to define different types of breast cancer cells
Carcinoma in situ is a term used to describe the early stages of cancer, when the cancer is confined to the site of the origin of the cancer. This is before it has had the chance to spread to deeper tissue or other body organs. This is also known as pre-invasive breast cancer that will become dangerous if left untreated.
This carcinoma in situ can then progress to invasive or infiltrating carcinoma, where the cancer cells have grown beyond the cell layers where the cancer originated. Most breast cancers are invasive carcinomas and can be invasive lobular or ductal carcinomas.
The cancer cells are also classified by their location. So an adenocarcinoma is a type of breast cancer that starts in the glandular tissue such as the milk ducts and lobules of the breast. On the other hand sarcoma is a term used to describe a cancer that originates in the blood vessels, muscle or fat tissue, which however is rare in breast cancers.
For clinicians as well, the type of breast cancer cells are important to indentify to decide on the treatment protocol and also because some types of cancer cells are more resistant to treatment than others.