Each of our lives is a story. We journey along a road of experiences and emotions, passing significant milestones along the way. When suddenly, the road beneath our feet takes a sharp turn, breaking from what was once certain. Breast cancer causes this break. Perspective ruthlessly shifts; you and your loved ones see the road differently than before.
Throughout these videos, as you learn about breast cancer, we will repeatedly reference the anatomy of the breast. Understanding the different parts and functions will help you better grasp the details of breast cancer.
Healthy cells are the basic building blocks of all tissue and organs in the body. But when cell DNA (the cell's wiring) is damaged, mutated cells begin to rapidly reproduce without following the pre-wired plan.
The growth and spread of cancer can be difficult to grasp because cancer cell growth is fueled by usually healthy chemicals of the body. Medical professionals usually illustrate these chemicals with complex diagrams and scientific formulae. But let's simplify it: circles are estrogen, squares are progesterone, and triangles are the HER2/neu gene. These three bodily chemicals can stimulate the growth of breast cancer tumors.
Remember, a tumor is a mass of abnormal tissue. There are two types of tumors: those that are non-cancerous, or 'benign', and those that are cancerous, which are 'malignant'.
When a lump or suspicious site in your breast is detected, it raises some serious questions. In this chapter, we are going to do our best to answer them. We will discuss what doctors know and do not know, how to react to your diagnosis as well as how to understand it, and how to move beyond the shock.
- Why do I have breast cancer? - What could I have done differently? There are some questions that cannot be answered; even so, they are not unreasonable questions to ask. Most people ask them. Just remember, doctors almost never pin down a single, precise cause for cancer.
Becoming familiar with your breasts and knowing what is normal for you will help you detect changes or abnormalities, if they occur. This is breast health awareness.
A biopsy is a diagnostic procedure in which cells are removed from a suspicious area to check for the presence of breast cancer. There are three types of biopsy: fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, and surgical biopsy.
Once the biopsy is complete, a specially trained doctor called a pathologist will examine the tissue or fluid samples for abnormal or cancerous cells. Pathology reports can take one or two weeks to complete. The wait can be a real challenge, but being able to make an informed decision regarding your treatment is well worth your time. Remember, the pathology report helps give a full picture of your situation.
Cancer is assessed by stages ranging from 0-4; each stage represents a progression of the cancer. As the complexity of the cancer intensifies, so does the treatment required to fight it. Breast cancer is assigned to a stage based on where it began in the breast and how much of the breast and other parts of the body are affected by it.
Stage 0, DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) is a noninvasive cancer where abnormal cells have been found in the lining of the breast milk duct. In Stage 1 invasive breast cancer, the tumor has not exceeded 2cm (0.8in). Although it's considered to be invasive, it has not yet spread to any surrounding lymph nodes or outside the breast tissue.
Stage 2 invasive breast cancer is divided into two categories, based upon the size of the tumor and whether or not the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes.
Stage 3 invasive breast cancer includes various types of cancer. It is primarily based on the location and number of lymph nodes to which the cancer has spread, but it can also depend on the size of the tumor and if the chest wall or skin have been affected.
Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of breast cancer, because it has spread to other organs of the body; most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. This is known as "metastatic cancer".
Triple Negative Breast Cancer tumors lack receptors for any of three bodily chemicals: estrogen, progesterone, and the HER2/neu gene. There are still effective treatments for it, such as chemotherapy, but doctors are not sure what stimulates this type of tumor to grow.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer is another uncommon but aggressive form of cancer, in which abnormal cells infiltrate the skin and lymph vessels of the breast. This type of cancer usually does not produce a distinct tumor or lump that can be felt and isolated within the breast. Symptoms begin to appear when the lymph vessels become blocked by the cancer cells; the breast typically becomes red, swollen, and warm. The breast skin may appear pitted like an orange peel.
Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy have tremendous additional strain due to concern for the safety of the unborn child, but there is still hope because of the many treatment options available. If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed, be sure to communicate information about your pregnancy to your doctor. Your medical team will take extra care in designing the treatment plan that best controls the breast cancer while protecting your unborn child.
n recent years, due to earlier detection and more effective treatments, many women diagnosed with breast cancer overcome the disease and go on to live healthy lives.
Before selecting your treatment plan, you should first understand the difference between standard treatment and clinical trials. Standard treatments are methods that experts agree are appropriate, accepted and widely used. These standard procedures have proven useful in fighting breast cancer in the past. A clinical trial, on the other hand, is an approved research study that some doctors believe has a strong potential to improve standard treatments.