What is Breast Cancer?
The term cancer covers more than a hundred diseases that share one trait: In all of the diseases, cells grow out of control and destroy healthy tissues. For women in the United States, the most common type of cancer is breast cancer. If you find a lump in your breast that turns out to be cancer, and you get treatment early-before it spreads beyond the breast-you have a good chance of leading a long, healthy life. If you are between the ages of 20 to 39, you should get a breast exam by a physician or other trained specialist at least every three years. If you are older than 40 on, get a breast exam annually.
Good News about Breast Cancer
The death rate from breast cancer has been going down for the past ten years. How fast the cancer grows and whether it turns out to be fatal depend on a number of things, including your age, your overall health, and how well your immune system-with medical help-can fight it.
If detected early, breast cancer can often be treated effectively with surgery that preserves the breast, followed by radiation therapy.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Cancerous breast lumps are usually painless, firm, and hard to move. If you feel a lump in your breast that does not change with your monthly cycle, tell your doctor. If you notice thickening in a breast, tell your doctor. Do not delay. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer can dramatically improve your chances of complete recovery.
Other symptoms are: A change in breast size or shape that seems unrelated to your menstrual cycle, discharge from the nipple, a change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast.
Stages of Breast Cancer
There are 4 main stages of breast cancer.
Stage I breast cancer
Tumors are =< 2 centimeters, no lymph node involvement
Stage II breast cancer
are > 2 centimeters but =< 5 centimeters, Lymph nodes may be involved, cancer
has traveled to the lymph nodes located in the armpit
is <5 centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, and the
lymph nodes are attached to each other or to other structures
has spread to tissues near the breast (skin, chest wall [including the ribs and
the muscles in the chest])
IV breast cancer
How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
If you notice a strange lump in your breast, your physician will order medical tests. Depending on the results of the tests, your doctor may do a minor surgery called a biopsy to remove a sample of tissue in the lump. A biopsy is done with either a fine needle or a small incision. The sample is then checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. Most lumps aren't cancerous. In fact, of the 500,000 women each year who have a biopsy, up to 80 percent learn their lumps are benign. If the lump turns out to be cancerous, your doctor will order more tests to help decide on the best treatment.
Men and Breast Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that about 1400 men developed breast cancer in 1995. This number is just under 1 percent of the new breast cancer cases diagnosed in that year. In the same year, about 240 men died of breast cancer.
Can Breast Cancer be Treated?
Yes. Doctors consider a variety of factors when selecting the appropriate therapy. These factors include:
Four types of treatment are used: surgery (procedures such as "lumpectomy" (the removal of the tumor) and "mastectomy" (the removal of the entire breast), radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays to kill cancer cells), chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells), and hormone therapy (using drugs that change the way hormones work or taking out organs that make hormones, such as the ovaries).
Treatment may be more successful if it is found in the early states. Self tests are useful in finding breast cancer in its early stages.
Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented?
There is no certain way to prevent breast cancer. For now, the best plan for women at average breast cancer risk is to reduce risk factors whenever possible. Also, following the American Cancer Society's guidelines for early detection as outlined in "Can Breast Cancer be Found Early?" will not prevent breast cancer, but can help find cancers when the likelihood of successful treatment is greatest.
Lymphedema may affect breast cancer patients.
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