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Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast cancer awareness is a necessity throughout the entire year. Apart from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer found among women in the United States. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some point in a woman's life is less than 12 percent, meaning that 1 in every 8 women will be affected by this disease.

The American Cancer Society's most recent 2011 estimates for breast cancer show that within a year, about 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women, about 57,650 new cases of carcinoma in situ will be diagnosed and about 39,520 women will lose their battle with breast cancer. Given these startling statistics, becoming informed about the kinds of breast cancer, the risks associated with the disease and the preventive care that can help avert it are critical.


Understanding Breast Cancer

Breast cancer, like all other cancers, forms when the process of cell division goes awry. Normally, cells are constantly dividing and dying, which ensures that there is a balance between cell death and cell growth. Tumor cells do not have the same checks and balances that affect the normal cell cycle. Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can be affected, too.

There are several types of breast cancer, although some of them are extremely rare. In some cases a single breast tumor can be a combination of these types or be a mixture of invasive (able to metastasize) and in situ cancer.

Invasive ductal carcinoma

This is the most common type of breast cancer. Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC) starts in a milk passage (duct) of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream.

Why it matters: About 2 of 5 invasive breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinomas.

Invasive lobular carcinoma

Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands, or lobules. Like IDC, it can metastasize to other parts of the body. Invasive lobular carcinoma may be harder to detect by a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma.

Why it matters: About 1 in 10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC.

Ductal carcinoma in situ

Ductal carcinoma in situ the most common type of breast cancer that stays within the part of the breast where it started (non-invasive). DCIS means that the cancer cells are inside the ducts of the breast, but have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. A mammogram is often the best way to find DCIS early.

Why it matters: About 1 in 5 new breast cancer cases will be DCIS. Nearly all women diagnosed at this early stage of breast cancer can be cured.

 

Prevention: Early Detection Saves Lives

Breast cancer screening has been shown to reduce deaths associated with breast cancer. In the US, death rates from breast cancer in women have been declining since 1990, due in part to early detection by mammography screening and improvements in treatment. Currently, 60 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the five-year survival rate is 98 percent. The following methods prove effective in not only preventing the disease, but saving lives:

1. Breast Self-Exam - Performing regular breast self-exams (monthly is recommended) will ensure that you are familiar with your normal fluctuation in breast consistency.

2. Clinical Breast Exams - This is a touch test similar to the breast self-exam, but is performed by your health care provider. All areas of the breast are carefully pressed to find lumps that may not be seen on mammogram.

3. Mammograms - This is a diagnostic tool in which x-rays are taken of your breast to reveal abnormal tissues. Mammograms can detect small breast tumors in two ways: Early breast cancers often leave tiny calcium deposits in the breast as cells die, and these can be seen on the mammograms. Other breast tumors are revealed by showing masses or shadows that look like white spots on an otherwise dark breast image. Either way, these mammogram changes can be the first signal that there may be abnormal cells developing in the breast.

If you're age 40 or older, you should have screening mammograms every year. There is no upper age limit on when to stop screening mammograms, as long as other health conditions are not serious and a woman is healthy enough to undergo breast cancer treatment if cancer is detected.

4. Family medical history - If you are at increased risk of developing breast cancer because of family history, known to have abnormal BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes, or because of previous premalignant changes on biopsy, screening may be recommended at a younger age than 40. Sometimes breast MRIs (a more sophisticated imaging technique) are used in such individuals. Women at increased risk should have regular check-ups with a medical provider skilled in breast cancer screening and knowledgeable about the latest screening recommendations and techniques.

By taking the correct preventative measures, many women will be able to detect their cancer early and win their battle with breast cancer. Becoming informed empowers you to be a partner in your own healthcare, so this October go beyond the pink and take a closer look at breast cancer for not only yourself but for those you love.

 

Hope Through Research - You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about breast cancer. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:

 

 

For more information:

Go to the Breast Cancer health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Nov 30, 2011

Paula  Silverman, MD Paula Silverman, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University