How Breast Cancer Will Affect You
The emotional trauma brought about by cancer among women brings to light the importance of awareness of what breast cancer really is. Unknown to many, breast cancer is a single disease but a collection of diseases that originates in the ducts and lobules of the female breast. According the American Cancer Society study of 2007, breast cancer ranks next to non-melanoma skin cancer as the most prevalent cancer in women. It is estimated that about 178,000 women each year are affected with the disease with approximately 40,500 probable fatalities.
In 2006, another major ACS study indicated that the number of new breast cancer cases have immensely dropped from the levels reached in 2002 and 2003. This leveling off of new cases has a profound impact as there was a twenty-year continuous rise in the number of new cases. Medical advancement and social awareness contributed to the decrease.
In addition to this, the five year survival rate for localized breast cancer has risen to almost a hundred percent in recent years. For cancer cases that have spread to nearby tissues, the survival rate is at eighty three percent. However, those with later stage breast cancer have a survival rate of only twenty percent. Overall, the survival rate for all stage of breast cancer is eighty percent for a five year period and eighty percent for ten years.
Nowadays, cancer screening has become an integral part of the overall disease prevention method that women undergo. There are several ways to conduct breast cancer screening. This includes monthly breast self-examination, physician performed clinical breast examination and screening mammography. When a mass or lump is notice during these examinations, a biopsy is undertaken in order to analyze the lump for the presence of cancerous cells. Breast cancer biopsy, may be done using fine-needle aspiration, large needle core or surgical dissection.
Additional tests like magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound or PET scan may be done to determine the size, extent and exact location of the cancer. The combination of all these tests gives the physician an idea on how the cancer may react to treatment. This also helps doctors predict a patient’s life expectancy.
The treatment of cancer generally involves surgical removal of the tumor or the entire breast. This may be followed by an accompanying therapy to eliminate any trace of cancer cells in the body.
Mastectomy and breast-sparring surgery are two ways of performing removal of the tumor. During these procedures, a full lymph node or sentinel lymph node dissection is also done to check if the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
Depending on the stage of the cancer, procedures such as radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and chemotherapy may be done to fully rid the body of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is done using a machine to target a certain area around the breast and killing trace abnormal cells which are left behind after surgery. Breast cancer chemotherapy follows the same principle but to a larger extent. It involves the entire body and is usually administered to prevent metastasis or recurrence to happen. It can be taken orally or intravenously depending on the patient’s arrangement with her physician.
Hormonal therapy, for its part, is used in cases where the cancer cells have hormone positive receptors. Drugs are used to cut off the supply of estrogen or progesterone to the cancer cells stopping its growth and spread to other areas in the body.
Breast Cancer Staging
As mentioned earlier, staging dictates the kind of treatment necessary for a certain cancer case. Cancer staging is typically grouped into five stages. Carcinoma in situ or Stage 0 is when the cancer is just starting to develop and has yet to reach other tissues and organs. Stage 1 happens when the cancer has formed a mass smaller than 2 centimeters. In this stage, the cancer has yet to affect neighboring lymph nodes. Stage 2 is when the cancer is about 2-5 centimeters and has not yet affected the underarm lymph nodes. Stage 3 happens when the cancer has affected the underarm lymph nodes and measures more than 5 centimeters. In Stage 4, other organs such as the lungs and liver are already affected by the disease. At this stage, the cancer may have already spread throughout the breast or may have affected the other breast.
Risks Factors and Symptoms
Make note that the hormone, estrogen, plays a key role in the development of the cancer. Some breast cancer cells have estrogen receptors that facilitate their growth and progression. Even when a woman is already in menopause, the other parts of her body produces the hormone androgen that is converted into fatty deposits and ultimately estrogen. This is the main reason why women with more fat are at higher risk for breast cancer.
More than ever, new and improved breast cancer treatment methods have helped more women fight the illness and live longer, more meaningful lives. However, sometimes cancer can recur even with the removal of tumor and affected lymph nodes. This is the reason why breast cancer survivors are generally advised to continue having regular consultation with their physician.
A patient may experience complications or side effects brought about by treatment. Radiation therapy, for example, may cause temporary aches, pains and swelling of the breast area. It is best to ask your doctor about these complications so you would be ready for their occurrence.
Here are some conditions that help us know when to contact your physician. If you notice a presence of a lump in the breast or armpit, if you are above forty and have not had a mammogram the previous year, if you are above thirty-five with an immediate relative who had breast, ovarian or colon cancer, and finally, if you are unsure about your health condition and want to learn how to perform self-examination of the breast.