What are Cancer and Breast Cancer?

What is cancer?

Our bodies are made up of millions of tiny cells that group together to form our tissues and organs such as the muscles, bones, liver and breasts.  Normal cells wear out or get damaged over time and the body replaces them. But sometimes cells grow abnormally and become cancerous. If not treated, these cancer cells take over normal cells so that eventually the body cannot work properly and dies.

For most people, the word ‘cancer’ is very frightening. Some people cannot even say it.  Others believe that trying to treat cancer actually causes it.

Many people who are told they have cancer think that it means they are going to die, probably very soon, so there is no point in doing anything about it.

This might have been true years ago, but nowadays, many kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, can be cured completely or treated so that people live active, healthy lives into normal old age.


90% of women survive breast cancer for five years, and often much longer.

It is not possible to catch cancer from someone who has it.

The earlier that cancer is found and treated, the better the chance of surviving for many years.

It is therefore vital to check yourself regularly for signs of changes to your breasts and to visit your healthcare provider if you find something unusual.

Know Your BreastsClick here to go to the Know Your Breasts Page 

What is breast cancer?

The breast is made up of a several different types of cell:

  • Lobules (the cells, known as glands, that produce milk)
  • Ducts (the tubes that carry the milk)
  • Nipple
  • Areola (pink or brown area around the nipple)
  • Fat
  • Tissue that surrounds and connects the lobules and ducts.

Breast cancer most often develops in the cells lining the milk ducts and less commonly in the lobules. Cancerous cells can remain in the ducts or lobules (this is referred to as “in situ” cancer) or they can break through into surrounding breast tissue (this is “invasive” or infiltrating cancer).

The WILLOW website has more information about breast cancer here