What You Really Need to Know About Breast Cancer
by Larry Denton
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in
the United States (other than skin cancer). Each year, in the
United States alone, approximately 220,000 women are told they
have breast cancer. Upon hearing this unexpected and
overwhelming news, a woman is faced with having to make
treatment choices within a very short period of time. While
curable if detected early, breast cancer is the leading cause of
death for women ages 35 to 54.
Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. Cancer
occurs when, for unknown reasons, cells become abnormal and
multiply without control or order. All parts of the body are
made up of cells that normally divide to produce more cells only
when the body needs them. When cancer occurs, cells keep
dividing even when new cells are not needed.
There are several types of breast cancer. The most common is
ductal carcinoma, which begins in the lining of the milk ducts
within the breast. Another type, lobular carcinoma, begins in
the lobules where breast milk is produced. If a cancerous tumor
invades nearby tissue, it is called invasive cancer.
Cancer cells may spread beyond the breast to other lymph nodes,
or the bones, liver or lungs. When breast cancer spreads, it is
called metastatic breast cancer even though it is found in
another part of the body. For example, breast cancer that has
spread to the liver is called metastatic breast cancer, not
Doctors can not always explain why one person gets cancer and
another does not. Medical researchers are, however, learning
about what happens inside cells that may cause cancer. They have
identified changes in certain genes within breast cells that can
be linked to a higher risk for breast cancer. Genetic changes
may be inherited from a parent or may accumulate throughout a
person's lifetime. Breast cancer usually begins with a single
cell that transforms from normal to malignant over a period of
time. Presently, however, no one can predict exactly when cancer
will occur or how it will progress.
Every woman has some chance of developing breast cancer during
her lifetime. As women get older, those chances increase.
Overall, a woman's chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer
is 1 out of 8. Even though breast cancer is more common in older
women, it also occurs in younger women and even in a small
number of men (1,300 cases per year in the U.S.).
While there is yet no preventive to stop breast cancer, early
detection is vital to surviving the disease. There are three
things women can, and should do. Get an annual mammogram
(special X-ray screening) after the age of 50; regular (yearly)
breast examination by a doctor; and breast self-examination
(BSE) at least once a month.
If breast cancer is detected, it is important to remember there
is no single treatment that is "right" for all women. As with
most medical conditions, there is no "one-size-fits-all"
treatment or cure. And all breast cancers are not alike. Breast
cancer is a complex disease. Once breast cancer has been found,
more tests will be done to find the specific pattern of your
particular cancer. This is an important step called staging.
Knowing the exact stage of your disease will help your doctor
plan your course of treatment. Your doctor will want to know:
the size of the tumor; if the cancer has spread within your
breast; if cancer is present in your underarm lymph nodes; if
cancer is present in other parts of your body.
There are many options available and you can always ask more
than one doctor about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Your
best start is to gain as much knowledge about the disease and
the treatments as possible. Find answers to your questions and
gain assistance in your fight against a terrifying enemy.
Remember, there are no "dumb" questions when you are faced with
Most women who are treated for early breast cancer go on to live
healthy, active, productive lives. The best chance of survival
is early detection, so plan for mammograms, have yearly visits
with your doctor, and use self-examination frequently. Best
wishes for years of good health!
Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years
at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently Vice
President of Elfin Enterprises, Inc. an Internet business
providing valuable information and resources on a variety of
important topics. For a recovery room full of accurate and
useful information about breast cancer visit, http://www.BreastCancerAid