What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the abnormal growth and uncontrollable division of cells in the breast area. Once the cells begin to grow uncontrollably, they can invade nearby healthy tissue and destroy them. This process usually begins with surrounding lymph nodes under the armpit and tissue under the breastbone and collarbone. It is possible that a tumor may form. Benign tumors are not cancerous -- they do not strike surrounding tissue and spread throughout the body. Malignant tumors, however, have the capacity to grow beyond their original location and into other tissues.
According to the American Cancer Society:
It has not yet been confirmed why breast cancer occurs, but certain factors are known to increase the possibility of developing the disease.
Controllable risk factors (lifestyle-based):
Uncontrollable risk factors:
Breast cancer usually develops without any noticeable symptoms. It is, however, advisable to perform monthly breast self-examinations since the discovery of breast lumps can often be a sign of trouble. Scheduling an appointment with a doctor is recommended if one of the following warning signs is experienced:
What Are the Goals of Chemotherapy Treatment?
Screening and Diagnosis
The chance of survival significantly increases when breast cancer is found early. Performing self breast exams, regular screening mammograms and clinical breast exams are a good way to participate in the early detection of breast cancer.
Stages of Breast Cancer
If a breast cancer diagnosis is made, doctors perform additional tests to determine the stage of the cancer. At this time, it is also established if the cancer has spread and exactly how far. Staging the cancer is an important step in developing an appropriate treatment plan.
Stage 0: This stage is used to describe non-invasive breast cancer. In other words, there is no evidence of cancerous cells invading neighboring healthy tissue.
Stage 1: This is an early stage of invasive breast cancer but still confined to the breast. Lymph nodes are not involved in this stage.
Stage III: The tumor may be large at this stage but the cancer is still confined to the breast and nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is divided into two subcategories:
In Stage IIIA, the tumor in the breast measures 2 inches or less, the cancer is present in underarm lymph nodes, and the lymph nodes are attached to each other or to other structures. In other cases of Stage IIIA breast cancer, the tumor exceeds 2 inches and cancer is present in the underarm lymph nodes.
In Stage IIIB, the tumor may have spread to lymph nodes inside the chest wall along the breastbone.
Stage IV: This stage includes cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body, frequently the bones, lungs or brain.
Recurrent: This is the name for cancer that has returned after treatment. The breasts, chest wall or other parts of the body may be affected in the recurrent stage.
Common Treatment Options
Thanks to medical advances, patients have more treatment options than ever before. Breast cancer is incredibly treatable with high survival rates.
Treatment options for breast cancer depend on the type, stage and size of the tumor. General health and personal preferences also play a role in the type of treatment a patient will endure. The goal of treatment is to safeguard healthy tissue while killing the tumor where it originated, as well as any other cancer cells that have spread throughout the body.
Treatment options include:
It is common that patients with breast cancer undergo surgery to remove the cancerous tissue in the breast. Some axillary lymph nodes (lymph nodes in the armpit) are also extracted to see if the breast cancer has spread. Types of surgery include:
Wide Excision Lumpectomy - This type of surgery removes the breast tumor and a small amount of surrounding normal tissue.
Mastectomy - This is the surgical removal of the entire breast. There are three different types of mastectomies:
Breast reconstruction surgery can be considered after a mastectomy. A breast implant may be used to reconstruct the breast at the same time as the mastectomy, or anytime thereafter.
Radiation therapy is a non-surgical method of treatment of cancer. This procedure uses penetrating beams of high-energy waves called x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation destroys tumor cells by destroying their genetic material, making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow. There are two types of radiation therapy:
The type of radiation therapy given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy treatment uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by preventing the cells from dividing. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally or by injection. Discussing treatment protocols with a treatment professional is important to become aware of any possible side effects.
Hormone therapy is a type of treatment that eliminates hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Because some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow, drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy are used to either reduce the production of hormones or block them from working if tests show that the cancerous cells have receptors.
Breast Cancer in Men
Although it is unusual for men to develop breast cancer, it can be found in those between 60 and 70 years of age. Breast cancer is an extremely rare cause of death in men.