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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Health Talk: Understanding BREAST CANCER

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it's important to understand some basics: What is breast cancer and how does it happen?

In this article, you can learn about how breast cancer develops, how many people get breast cancer, and what factors can increase risk for getting breast cancer. You also can learn more about signs and symptoms to watch for and how to manage any fears you may have about breast cancer.


Definition of Breast Cancer
Cancer is a disease characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Breast cancer is any type of malignant (cancerous) growth in the breast tissue. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and affects approximately one out of every eight women in the U.S.

Description of Breast Cancer
There are several types of breast cancer, but the common types are ductal carcinoma (occurring in 85 - 90 percent of the cases) and lobular carcinoma (occurring in about eight percent of the cases).Ductal carcinoma arises in the ducts (the passageway which carries milk from the milk-producing lobules to the nipple). Lobular carcinoma arises in the lobules (part of the lobe which ends in dozens of tiny bulbs that can produce milk).

Causes and Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
No one knows exactly why a normal breast cell becomes a cancerous one, and there is probably no single cause. It is thought, however, that breast cancer results from a combination of risk factors. These risk factors can be grouped into several categories:

Hereditary risk:
It has long been known that women whose mothers or sisters had breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease themselves.
Hormonal risk factors:
The female hormones estrogen and progesterone are involved in breast cancer formation. For example, it is known that women who start to menstruate at an early age, or who have a late menopause have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who do not. It is also known that women who take hormone replacement therapy after menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Age:
Breast cancer becomes much more common as women grown older.
Gender:
Most breast cancer occurs in women, although about 12,000 cases of breast cancer occur in men in the United States each year.
Diet and Exercise:
Studies have shown that women who exercise are less likely to develop breast cancer than sedentary women.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer



Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when it first develops, breast cancer may cause no symptoms at all. But as the cancer grows, it can cause these changes:
A lump or thickening in the breast or armpit
A change in the size or shape of the breast
discharge from the nipple
A change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast or areola (such as dimpling, puckering, or scaliness).
Note: any changes in the breast should be reported to a doctor without delay. Symptoms can be caused by cancer or by a number of less serious conditions. Early diagnosis is especially important for breast cancer because the disease responds best to treatment before it has spread. The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the better a woman's chance for complete recovery.

Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

The doctor will examine the breasts using visual inspection and palpation. Visual inspection looks for changes in breast contour, new dimpling, nipple inversion, discharge, moles, puckering or persistent sores. Palpation is using the pads of the fingers to press down and feel the tissue around the breasts for any unusual lumps. Benign (non-cancerous) lumps may feel different from cancerous ones, but most times it is very difficult to determine whether a lump is cancerous without further testing.
Mammography is an x-ray of the breast that reveals suspicious areas that are denser than normal breast tissue or have abnormal deposits of calcium. Mammography is an important screening test which can show a breast cancer long before it is big enough to be felt in the breast. Women over age 40 should undergo a mammogram every year in order to detect breast cancers when they are small and can be treated easily.
Ultrasonography uses high frequency sound waves that enter the breast and bounce back. The pattern of their echoes produce a picture called a sonogram that detects whether the breast lump is solid (possibly cancerous) or filled with fluid (non-cancerous).
In a biopsy, tissue is removed from the breast and examined by a pathologist, who can tell if cancerous cells are present. There are three ways to do breast biopsies: fine needle aspiration, large core breast biopsy and surgical biopsy.
If breast cancer is diagnosed, the doctor will then determine the stage (phase or progression) of the cancer. The following staging system is used:

Stages of Breast Cancer

Stage I means the tumor is no larger than two centimeters (cm) (about one inch) and has not spread outside the breast.
Stage II means the tumor is from two to five cm (roughly two inches) and/or has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
Stage III means the cancer is larger than five cm (about two inches) involves the underarm lymph nodes to a greater extent, and/or has spread to other lymph nodes or other tissues near the breast.
Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other organs of the body (metastatic cancer), most often the lungs, bones, and/or liver.

Treatment of Breast Cancer
There are two methods of treatment - local and systemic.
Local treatments are used to remove or destroy the cancer cells in a specific area. Surgery and Radiation therapy are examples of local treatments.
Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy examples of systemic treatments.

BREAST SELF EXAMINATION

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