What Is Breast Cancer?
Cells in the body normally divide (reproduce) only when new cells are needed. Sometimes, cells in a part of the body grow and divide out of control, which creates a mass of tissue called a tumor. If the cells that are growing out of control are normal cells, the tumor is called benign (not cancerous.) If however, the cells that are growing out of control are abnormal and don't function like the body's normal cells, the tumor is called malignant (cancerous).
Cancers are named after the part of the body from which they originate. Breast cancer originates in the breast tissue. Like other cancers, breast cancer can invade and grow into the tissue surrounding the breast. It can also travel to other parts of the body and form new tumors, a process called metastasis.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
We do not know what causes breast cancer, although we do know that certain risk factors may put you at higher risk of developing it. A risk factor is anything that puts you at higher risk of developing a particular disease. A person's age, genetic factors, personal health history and diet all contribute to breast cancer risk.
Who Gets Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women other than skin cancer.
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer -- and is the leading cause of cancer death among women ages 35 to 54. In 2001, 192,200 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 40,600 will die. Although these numbers may sound frightening, research reveals that the mortality rate could decrease by 30% if all women age 50 and older who need a mammogram had one.
Only 5-10% of breast cancers occur in women with a clearly defined genetic predisposition for the disease. The majority of breast cancer cases are "sporadic," meaning there is no direct family history of the disease. The risk for developing breast cancer increases as a woman ages.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer?
These changes may be found when performing monthly breast self-exams. By performing breast self-exams, you can become familiar with the normal monthly changes in your breasts.
Breast self-examination should be performed at the same time each month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends. If you have stopped menstruating, perform the exam on the same day of each month.
What Are The Types Of Breast Cancer?
The most common types of breast cancer are:
Cancers can also form in other parts of the breast but are more rare.
What Are The Stages Of Breast Cancer?
Early stage or stage 0 breast cancer is when the disease is localized to the breast and lymph nodes (carcinoma in situ).
Stage I breast cancer: The cancer is smaller than 1 inch across and it hasn't spread anywhere.
Stage II breast cancer is one of the following: the tumor is less than an inch across but has spread to the underarm lymph nodes (IIA); or the tumor is between 1-2 inches (with or without spread to the lymph nodes); or the tumor is larger than 2 inches and not has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm (both IIB).
Advanced breast cancer (metastatic) results after cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes and to other parts of the body.
Stage III breast cancer is also called locally advanced breast cancer. The tumor is larger than 2 inches and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, or a tumor that is any size with cancerous lymph nodes that adhere to one another or surrounding tissue (IIIA).
Stage IIIB breast cancer is a tumor of any size that has spread to the skin, chest wall or internal mammary lymph nodes (located beneath the breast and inside the chest).
Stage IV breast cancer is defined as a tumor, regardless of size, that has spread to places far away from the breast, such as bones, lungs or lymph nodes.
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
During your regular physical examination your doctor will take a careful personal and family history and performing a breast examination and possibly one or more other tests.
Breast Examination: During the breast exam, the doctor will carefully feel the lump and the tissue around it. Breast cancer usually feels different (in size, texture and if it moves easily) than benign lumps.
Mammography: an X-ray test of the breast can give important information about a breast lump.
Digital mammography: A new technique in which an X-ray image of the breast is recorded into a computer rather than on a film. In January 2000, the FDA approved a digital mammography system that may offer potential advantages over the use of standard X-ray film. Study results have notshown that digital images are more effective in finding cancer than X-ray film images, but they may reduce your exposure to radiation.
Ultrasonography: This test uses sound waves to detect the character of a breast lump -- whether it is a fluid filled cyst (not cancerous) or a solid mass (which may or may not be cancer). This may be performed along with the mammogram.
Based on the results of these tests, your doctor may or may not request a biopsy test to get a sample of the breast mass cells or tissue. Biopsies are performed using surgery or needles.
After the sample is removed, it is sent to a lab for testing. A pathologist -- a doctor who specializes in diagnosing abnormal tissue changes -- views the sample under a microscope and looks for abnormal cell shapes or growth patterns. When cancer is present, the pathologist can tell what kind of cancer it is (ductal or lobular carcinoma) and whether it has spread beyond the ducts or lobules (invasive).
Laboratory tests, such as hormone receptor tests (estrogen and progesterone) can show whether the hormones help the cancer to grow. If the test results show that hormones help the cancer grow (a positive test), the cancer is likely to respond to hormonal treatment. This therapy deprives the cancer of the estrogen hormone.
Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are best accomplished by a team of experts working together with the patient. Each patient needs to evaluate the advantages and limitations of each type of treatment, and work with her team of physicians to develop the best approach.
Other Diagnostic Tests
Other methods being investigated but not yet available include:
Follow these three steps for early detection:
West Islip Breast Cancer Coalition for Long Island
735 Montauk Highway | PO Box 247 | West Islip, New York 11795, United States
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