Written by Michele Wheat
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women around the world. Breast cancer starts as a group of cancerous cells that rapidly grow and divide. Eventually, these cancerous cells invade the affected area and there is no room left for normal cells. When cancerous cells take over an area of the body, the affected area of the body is no longer able to function as normal. During the growth of cancerous cells, tumors often begin to form. These tumors are often one of the first signs of breast cancer in women, and the cause of their development is unknown. Although it is possible for women to develop benign (non-cancerous) tumors in their breasts, it is necessary for any tumor or lump in the breast to be evaluated by a professional.
In examining the tumor or lump discovered in the breast, often, a woman will need to have a biopsy performed to determine whether or not the tumor is cancerous. To perform a biopsy, a surgical procedure is required. In this procedure, the breast is cut and a small portion of breast tissue is removed from the area where the lump or tumor is located. Upon removing the tissue, a pathologist will examine the extracted tissue in a lab to determine if it contains cancer cells.
If no cancer cells are detected, a woman will generally be diagnosed with a benign tumor. This is generally not cause for concern. Some women may wish to have a second opinion upon receiving a negative biopsy result, although it should be noted that most women who have a biopsy performed will receive a result that is negative for cancer cells. After cancer has been completely ruled out, it is important for women to continue to monitor their breasts. They should receive regular checkups where mammograms are performed and continue to examine their breasts for any lumps or changes at home.
In the event that cancer cells are detected through a biopsy, the cells themselves will be able to tell the treating physicians about the particular strain of breast cancer that the woman has. Determining which type of cancer cells is present can help in determining the best treatment methods as well as how aggressive the cancer is. Often, breast cancer can be diagnosed before the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. If the cancer is found in its beginning stages, the outcome is much more positive. In the event that the cancer has already spread, treatment may be more difficult. Because of this, it is vital that any suspicious changes or lumps found within the breast be brought to the attention of a doctor immediately after being discovered.
Unfortunately, in the United States, approximately one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. While this form of cancer most commonly affects women, it may also be present in men. The rate of men developing breast cancer, however, is much lower, with only one out of every 1,000 U.S. men being diagnosed with it. While breast cancer affects millions of people, certain risk factors make it more likely for women to develop the cancer. These risk factors include aging, having a family history of breast cancer, and high levels of estrogen.
Just as there are different types of cancers that occur in specific areas of the body, there are different types of cancer cells. Most forms of cancer are caused by epithelial cancer cells. These cells are responsible for close to 90 percent of all cancers. This form of cancer is referred to by medical professionals as a carcinoma. Carcinomas are cancers that affect the organs and glands, such as the breasts or skin. Other forms of cancer include sarcomas, leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma. Sarcomas refer to cancer cells that affect bone, muscle, and fat. Leukemia is when cancer cells affect the blood stream. Lymphoma's cancerous cells begin to destroy cells that fight infection in the immune system, while melanoma cells wage war on cells that create pigmentation in the skin.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, studies have shown that some of the best methods of prevention involve simply living a healthy lifestyle. Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, or drug use is a great way to reduce the risk of breast cancer as well as other cancers. It is also recommended that women remain physically active and at a healthy weight. For those that in their child-bearing years, breastfeeding is thought to decrease the risk of breast cancer. In the event that a woman's child-bearing years have passed, they should limit their use of hormonal therapy during menopause to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. And women of all ages should examine their breasts regularly for suspicious lumps or changes. If anything appears to be out of the ordinary, they should consult a doctor quickly. While these breast exams do not prevent cancer, they can certainly prevent the spread of cancer if it is detected quickly.
The treatment used for breast cancer can vary drastically depending upon the specific type of cancer that a woman is diagnosed with as well as how advanced the cancer is at the time of discovery. If the cancer has not spread beyond a milk duct, it may be removed through surgery. Even after the cancer is removed through surgery, it will most likely still be necessary to have an additional therapy such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy. If the form of cancer is invasive, meaning it is spreading throughout the breast, lymph nodes, or other areas, surgery may not be possible. In these situations, other treatment methods including radiation or chemotherapy are likely. The specific plan of treatment, however, depends on a number of factors, including the stage and type of the cancer and the age and overall health of the patient.
As breast cancer has affected so many people's lives, whether personally or through a loved one, there are numerous organizations that focus specifically on breast cancer. These organizations work to promote awareness and research. Many of these organizations are responsible for creating wristbands adorned with pink ribbons. These wristbands may seem like a fashion statement, but with each sale, they can raise money for breast cancer research as well as show support for those who have lost their lives to breast cancer and those who have battled it.
Statistics for Breast Cancer
Types of Cancer Cells
Studies on Breast Cancer Prevention
Treatment for Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer Organizations