One of the most devastating types of cancer found in women is breast cancer. This type of cancer begins when cells in the breast divide and then continue to grow without their normal limits. Although breast cancer tumors grow slowly, this type of cancer continues to cause millions of women worldwide to suffer or die prematurely. The good news is that this type of cancer is very treatable and with early detection, the survival rate is excellent.
Breast Cancer – Facts & Statistics
In addition to being the most common type of cancer found in women, breast cancer is their second leading cause of death. According to National Breast Cancer foundation estimates, more than 246,660 women in the United States get a diagnosis of breast cancer each year. Of that number, about 40,000 will die from their breast cancer. Only lung cancer takes more women’s lives annually than breast cancer.
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Basic Issues of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most serious diseases faced by women. It is a second leading cause of death for women in the United States, but if diagnosed early, the prospects for survival are good. One issue that is a concern for women and their medical care providers is that early detection is hindered by the slow growth of cancerous breast tumors. Sometimes, it can be ten years before some of these tumors are discovered. By then, cells from it may have spread to other parts of the body and already caused additional serious damage. In other cases, the growth is faster, depending on risks factors. Detection, as early as possible, is the key to fighting this problem successfully. Survival rates are good, especially when the problem is detected as soon as possible. The worst survival rates occur when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
A Serious Medical Issue
Breast cancer is a serious medical issue that usually affects women. Men can develop breast cancer, but that is a rare occurrence. Breast cancers (carcinomas) are not the only type of cancer found in the breast tissue. Other types of cancers can spread to this soft breast tissue and develop as benign or cancerous tissues; they would be treated differently than breast cancer. Examples of other types of cancers include lymphomas (lymph system cancer) and sarcomas (soft tissue cancer). Treatment for all types of cancer should begin immediately upon detection.
- Statistics – There are two types of breast cancers: in situ and invasive. In the United States, combined new cases of these breast cancers diagnosed in 2015 were estimated to affect over 292,130 women: 231,840 invasive cases and 60,290 in situ cases. That same year, 40,290 women died from their breast cancers. Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men are, primarily because women naturally produce much higher levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are believed to be triggers for development of breast cancer cells.
- Types – There are several types of breast cancer, but two, in situ and invasive, are the most prevalent. A non-invasive type of cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), occurs when abnormal cells grow inside the milk ducts. It often is called pre-cancerous, until it does invade the breast tissue. At that point, breast cancer is called invasive. The invasive cancer cells are the troublemakers; they can develop into tumors, spread and cause death. Cells that spread from breast cancer tumors are most likely to migrate to the lymph nodes under the arm, as well as to other areas through the blood stream and lymphatic system. Between 50 and 75 percent of breast cancers do begin in the milk ducts. Another 10 to 15 percent begin in the lobules, and a few other cancers get their start in other breast tissues.
- Risks – The greatest risks are for females, as male breast cancer is rare. Among the women, there is little differentiation between races or ethnic groups, according to CDC records. Their report indicates that breast cancer is the number one cause of death for Hispanic women, and the third cause of death for American Indian/Alaskan women. For others, it is the second cause of death. The incidence of breast cancer varies slightly from that data. Risks get higher with age, and older women are more likely to develop breast cancer than younger women. Other risk factors include genetic or family history of cancer, being overweight and taking hormone replacements.
- Causes – Nearly 5,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. every week, but there is no clear-cut cause or relation to who gets this disease, or when or where they are located. Anyone can develop breast cancer, and there are several definite ways this type of cancer can develop.
- Who – Women and men both can have breast cancer, but women are 100 times more likely to have it than are men, due to their hormonal makeup. Some people are at higher risk, due to genetic makeup, family history of cancer, personal physical makeup and use of hormone replacement medications. A small percentage, 5% to 10%, of breast cancers is caused by gene mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2, but if you inherit these genes, the likelihood of developing breast cancer rises to as much as 45% to 65%.
- Where – Breast cancer strikes people from all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Most breast cancers start in the breast tissue or milk ducts, but cancerous cells from some other areas of the body may also migrate and settle in breast tissue.
- When – Breast cancer can occur at any age. If a woman has had radiation therapy prior to age 30, they are more likely to develop breast cancer in later years. Older women who are overweight run a higher risk, as estrogen hormones are then produced by fat instead of from the ovaries. Data compiled by the National Cancer Institute show that at age 30, chances of getting breast cancer are 1 in 227, but by age 70, the odds are much worse, at 1 in 26. In its advanced metastatic stage, breast cancer can spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes to other organs, usually to bones, the lungs, and liver or brain.
Treatment – Medical Care & Alternatives
Breast cancer is a major medical problem that affects millions of women. Both Government & Industry have spent decades learning about and trying to fight this disease. They have conducted extensive research and put dedicated effort into clinical trials while working to improve the treatment and medical care of patients suffering from breast cancer.
Research & Clinical Trials
Research is a way to test, develop, and determine the effectiveness of treatment programs and drugs used to treat diseases. Prior research and clinical trials are responsible for bringing a variety of drugs to the marketplace that will then be proven helpful for patients. Many people who are diagnosed with a disease, like breast cancer, or others who may be at risk of developing a particular disease, like breast cancer, may be eligible to participate in clinical trials. This is one way to be on the forefront of new successful treatments. Every drug now approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been researched through clinical trials before approval. Resources are available online to locate current trials, including at the Susan B. Komen website: (http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/ClinicalTrials.html).
There are a variety of treatment options today to fight breast cancer. The type of treatment provided is related to the severity of the disease stage, and with early detection, the patient has the best possible ability to win their battle. Like other types of cancer, breast cancer can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, or with surgery. Common treatment options include lumpectomy, which involves partial removal of a breast and the suspect tissue. For cases that involve a larger portion of the breast, a mastectomy removes the entire breast area. Radiation therapy can direct x-rays or other high energy particles or waves to kill the cancerous tissue. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment plan designed to kill the cancer cells, but like radiation therapy, it also has side effects such as hair loss, altered tasting of food, or darkening of the fingernails.
Elements of Successful Breast Cancer Programs
One of the recommended ways to combat breast cancer is to be aware of this problem and to do regular checkups to determine the presence of any abnormal cells in the chest area. Mammograms are one of the most familiar procedures that may reveal hidden problems or verify suspected cancerous tissue. If there is any sign of a problem or potential problem, be sure to stay in touch with the doctor and to follow any treatment plan closely. Consult with both a surgeon and an oncologist before selecting a plan of treatment. Listen and follow directions carefully. If you are put onto a program, complete that program and do follow ups as needed.
- Addressing Root Causes – Women and men can both develop breast cancer, but the risk for women is 100 times greater because of their production of estrogen hormones. It also has been shown that some people develop breast cancer even when they have few risk factors present, other than age or gender. Women especially should be aware of any potential they may have inherited for breast cancer. If there is a family history of cancer, the chances of having cancer is higher. Being overweight or obese is another factor that may eventually cause cancer, as is aging. Some races also have a higher incidence of breast cancer than other ethnic groups. If you are in any of these groups, it is especially important to get regular medical care throughout your lifetime.
- Warning Signs – Mammography screening can detect breast cancer at the earliest stage, before there may be any other physical warning signs, but it may not detect all cancers. Remember also, not all women will have the same warning signs. The most common signs are any change in the way the breast looks or feels, including the nipple area or nipple discharge. Any lumpiness that is new or feels different in one breast than the other is a warning sign. Most breast tissue is lumpy, but a new or unusually hard lump is suspect. Examine the breast and underarm areas for thickening, swelling, warmth, color change, change in size or shape, and any dimpling or puckering of the skin. Other warning signs include any pulling in of the nipple or other region of the breast, sores or a rash on the nipple that are itchy or scaly, sudden discharge from the nipple, or pain in one area that does not stop. Anything you notice that is new or unusual should be checked out by a professional. Early detection is the best way to fight breast cancer.
- Finding Medical Care – If you do not have a regular medical care provider, ask a trusted family member or friend for a referral. You also can contact your local health department, or call a nearby clinic or hospital. Your insurance company may have a list of local providers to contact, or you can search online for medical care providers. Do not delay in getting help immediately if you have any warning signs of possible breast cancer.
- Long Term Prospects – With early detection, long term prospects for recovery and survival are excellent. Treatment will depend on the stage any cancer is at. With breast cancer, there are four basic stages and 5-year survival rates: 100% for Stage 0-1, 93% for Stage II, 72% for Stage III, and 22% for Stage IV. A rating at Stage IV means the disease has spread to other parts of the body and is more difficult to control or stop. Finding cancer early is best; breast cancer is highly treatable and survival rates are excellent when treatment begins at the earliest stage.
Being informed about breast cancer, the risks, treatment, and survival rates is an important way that women can fight this disease. Learn what to look for now, so if you do discover a suspicious lump or other skin issue in the breast or underarm areas, you will know what to do immediately. Early detection offers you the best protection against the spread of cancer to other parts of your body, and it can help prevent more invasive procedures that might become necessary at later stages.
There is a wealth of information available online about breast cancer. Check at reliable websites such as CDC.gov, cancer.org, ww5.komen.org, webmd.com and others.