Understanding family cancer syndromes
The well-known breast
cancer advocacy and
research group Susan
G. Komen indicates
that, according to the most
recent data available, 1.7 million
new cases of breast cancer
occurred among women
worldwide in 2012.
Western Europe, North
America, and northern Europe
have the highest breast
cancer incidences in the
world, according to the International
Agency for Research
on Cancer and the
World Health Organization.
Women diagnosed with
breast cancer may want to begin
their treatment journeys
by educating themselves on
the anatomy of the breast so
they can better understand
their disease and how it develops.
The structure of the breast
is complex and comprised
of fat, glandular tissue, connective
tissue, lobes, lobules,
ducts, lymph nodes, blood
vessels, and ligaments.
The following is a breakdown
of the common components
of the breast:
The female breast is largely
fat cells called adipose tissue.
This tissue extends from
the collarbone down to the
underarm and across to the
middle of the rib cage. The
main purpose of adipose tissue
is to store energy in the
form of fat and insulate the
Each breast contains several
sections that branch out
from the nipple.
Lobule glands make milk
and are often grouped together
to form lobes. There may
be between 15 and 20 lobes in
each breast, says the Cleveland
Clinic. Each lobe has
roughly 20 to 40 lobules.
TIMESLEDGER | QNS.36 COM | OCT. 9-OCT. 15, 2020
Connecting the lobules are
small tubes called ducts. The
ducts carry milk to the nipples
of the breasts.
There are around 10 duct
systems in each breast, each
with its own opening at the
The nipple may be the
most recognizeable part of the
breast. It is in the center of the
breast. The lobules will squeeze
milk into the ducts, which then
transfer it to the nipples.
Most nipples protrude outward,
but according to Health
magazine’s medical editor
Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, some
women have flat or inverted
The nipples do not have a
singular hole for the milk to
come out like an artificial bottle
Rather, there are many lactiferous
duct outlets in each
nipple that correspond to the
ducts in each breast.
Snaking through the adipose
tissue are lymph vessels
The lymph system distributes
disease-fighting cells and
fluids as part of the immune
system, states the National
Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
Bean-shaped lymph nodes
in fixed areas through the system
filter abnormal cells away
from healthy tissue.
The areola is pigmented
skin surrounding a nipple.
The areola contains tubercles
glands, which secrete lubricating
materials to make breastfeeding
Changes in any areas of
the breast may be indicative
of cancer. That is why women
are urged to understand their
breasts’ “normal” appearance
and feel so they can recognize
any changes and address them
with a doctor right away.
Few, if any, families have not
been affected by cancer. No individual
or family is immune to
cancer, but some families may
be more at risk of developing certain
types of cancer than others.
In many instances, cancers that
run in families can be linked to behaviors
that families share.
For example, families that smoke
tobacco may be more vulnerable to
cancer than those that don’t, as the
smoke from tobacco is known to contain
dozens of carcinogens. Cancer
can affect multiple generations, even
in families in which only one person
smokes, as exposure to secondhand
smoke also increases cancer risk.
But poor behaviors or the effects
of those behaviors are not the only
cancer risk factors that can be passed
down from generation to generation.
According to the American Cancer
Society, between five and 10 percent
of all cancers result directly
from gene mutations inherited from
a parent. When cancers within a family
are strongly linked to such mutations,
this is known as family cancer
Cancer is not necessarily caused
by a family cancer syndrome, even
if gene mutations are inherited. But
the following factors may make it
more likely that cancers in a family
are caused by a family cancer syndrome:
• Many cases of the same type of
cancer, especially if the cancer is
considered uncommon or rare.
• Cancers that occur at an abnormally
young age within a family compared
to the median age such cancers
are typically diagnosed among the
• More than one type of cancer in a
• Cancers that occur in both of a
pair of organs, such as in both
kidneys, both breasts, or both
• More than one childhood
cancer in siblings.
• Cancer that occurs in a
sex that is not usually affected
by that type of
cancer, such as a man
being diagnosed with
the potential of a family
cancer syndrome with their physicians,
men and women can survey
their family histories with the disease.
Adults can make a list of the people
in their families who have been
diagnosed with cancer, noting their
relationship to each individual and
which side of the family each person
List the type of cancers each person
was diagnosed with, placing an
asterisk or note next to types that are
considered rare or unusual. In addition,
list the age of diagnosis for each
family member and whether or not
they developed more than one type of
This may be difficult to determine,
but try to learn if each relative diagnosed
with cancer made
any lifestyle choices that
might have contributed
to their diagnosis. Such
choices include smoking,
diet, and activity level.
Family cancer syndromes
are rare, but understanding
them can still help
families make the right lifestyle
choices. More information
about family cancer
syndromes is available at
Such instances are rare, but an elevated risk for certain types of cancer can be
passed down from generation to generation.
Learning breast anatomy
is important for health