The Most Common Cancers: #2 Breast Cancer
Of all the forms of cancer, perhaps none strikes at the heart of a person more than breast cancer. This disease not only threatens the life of the woman who has it, but can also leave deep, negative feelings of embarrassment, being incomplete, or being undesirable in its wake.
Breast cancer affects a woman physically and emotionally.
The disease can strike both sexes, though it is rare in men. WebMD reports that the risk of a woman developing breast cancer in her lifetime is 13.4 percent. That equates to just over one woman getting the disease out of every eight. In 2013, the National Cancer Institute estimated 234,580 new cases and 40,000 deaths.
That makes it the second most common cancer.
The function of the breast as an organ of the female body is to produce milk for babies. Inside, each breast is made up of 15 to 20 sections, or lobes. Each lobe is made of smaller, rounded structures called lobules, which contain groupings of tiny milk glands. When milk is produced for a baby, it is carried from the lobules through thin tubes, called ducts, to the nipple.
There are three forms of breast cancer; the differences being where the cancer is found. Ductal carcinoma occurs in the cells that line the ducts. Seven of every 10 breast cancer patients have this form.
Lobular carcinoma, on the other hand, strikes the lobules, where the milk glands are found. It accounts for one out of every 10 cases.
Invasive breast cancer is found in the surrounding tissues of the breast. It is cancer that has spread beyond the ducts and lobules. One woman out of eight in the United States will develop this form in their lifetime.
Breast cancer typically has no symptoms in its early stages. But as a tumor grows, you may notice the following signs:
• A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after menstruation
• Swelling in the armpit
• Pain or tenderness in the breast
• A flattening or indentation on the breast
• Any change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast
• A change in the nipple, such as nipple retraction, dimpling, itching, a burning sensation, a scaly rash, or ulceration
• Unusual discharge from the nipple; clear, bloody, or a different color
• A marble-like area under the skin
• An area on a breast that is distinctly different from any other on either breast
As with other cancers, early detection is key to treating breast cancer and ensuring the long-term health of the patient. There are several tests that are highly effective for detecting breast cancer.
The first is a self-exam. This is something any woman can do. If done regularly, self-exams are a proactive way to ensure a woman’s health. Learn how to perform a breast self-exam here. Physicians can also perform a clinical breast to check for cancer. Starting around the age of 20, this exam becomes a standard part of a woman’s check-up.
X-raying the breasts, a procedure called a mammogram, allows physicians to look for abnormal growths inside the breast tissue that might not be felt. When mammograms are performed regularly, they become a key tool for detecting cancer.
If your physician or X-ray studies detect a lump (or abnormality), a biopsy will be ordered to have it analyzed. If the cells are cancerous, then additional tests might be necessary to determine what causes the cells to multiply.
Some cancers have hormone receptors that use estrogen, progesterone, or both to grow. Other breast cancers multiply because of a protein called HER2. Tests will be performed on the biopsy to see if the cancer uses either of these substances. The findings will help determine the course of treatment.
The stage the cancer is in, the size of the tumor, the general health of the patient, and whether or not she has gone through menopause are other factors that help determine treatment.
Surgery to remove the growth is the most common form of action taken. Breast-Sparing Surgery removes the tumor and a small amount of the normal tissue that surrounds it. This procedure is also referred to as a partial mastectomy or lumpectomy. Surgery that removes the whole breast, a mastectomy, may also be ordered. A mastectomy may be recommended per certain clinical situations, such as patient preference, large tumor, or recurrent tumor.
At the time of surgery, a patient might choose to have breast reconstruction performed. It’s possible to have a reconstruction procedure at the time of the mastectomy, or it can be done later. Typically, patients who need radiation therapy will need to wait until that treatment is over.
Mastectomy patients might also choose to wear a breast form, use padding inside of the bra, or do nothing at all. It’s a personal choice that each individual makes.
Surgery is typically followed up by either radiation therapy, chemotherapy, target therapy, hormone therapy, or some combination of these. A physician will prescribe the treatments needed based on the individual case.
Breast cancer patients will need regular check-ups, every three to six months, after the treatment has concluded. These visits help determine if the cancer has returned, and help detect any health problems that might have developed from the treatment.