Get the Facts About Breast Cancer
Recent statistics show that one in every eight women will get a serious case of breast cancer in her lifetime. What’s more, thousands of men also suffer with breast cancer each year. In the face of these statistics, it’s important to understand breast cancer and what can be done about it.
Basic facts about breast cancer
When cells in the body begin growing out of normal control, that means we have cancer. Breast cancer happens when this kind of abnormal growth starts forming tumors in the breast.
Sometimes, there can be growths in the breast that are benign (noncancerous). The worries, of course, are the tumors that are cancerous. Some are able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and are quite “malignant.” Also, cancerous tumors can grow in the breast without metastasizing, but they’re still dangerous.
Controlling breast cancer risk
Some people get breast cancer for reasons that can’t be controlled. For example, women get breast cancer more often than men. Breast cancer risk also increases as we age. Certain types of genes seem connected to increased risk, and family history can also play a part.
However, some breast cancer risks can be controlled. These include:
- Alcohol – Drinking alcoholic beverages is directly linked to breast cancer. Women who have two to five drinks every day have a significantly increased risk of getting the disease.
- Body weight – Women who become overweight or obese as adults have a greater breast cancer risk. It also matters where the weight is located—excess fat in the waist area is worse than fat in the hips and thighs.
- Lack of exercise – Physical activity in the form of regular exercise seems to lower breast cancer risk. Some studies show that brisk walking for only one or two hours each week can make a real difference.
- Pregnancy – Becoming pregnant at an early age seems to reduce some types of breast cancer risk. The risk seems higher among women who don’t have any children. Getting pregnant after age 30 may also increase the risk. However, the evidence about these factors is not clear.
- Birth control – Studies have found that birth control pills may increase breast cancer risk by a small amount. The risk seems to go back to normal levels after the pills are stopped.
- Hormone therapy – Certain types of hormone therapy after menopause seem to increase risk. The risk returns to normal levels after therapy is stopped.
It’s important to find breast cancer early
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), “Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully.” They also say that regular screening tests are the most reliable way to find breast cancer early.
The screening tests for breast cancer can find it before it causes a lump or other symptoms. The ACS recommends that women at average risk should get a test called a “mammogram” on a regular basis. How often these women should get tested depends on their age. Women who have a high risk of the disease should get a mammogram and another test called “magnetic resonance imaging,” or MRI. The ACS says this group of women should get both tests every year.
If you think you may have breast cancer, talk with your doctor and tell him or her about any of the following symptoms:
- Lumps in the breast that are hard (may or may not be painful)
- Fluid leaking from the nipple
- Change in the size, shape or feel of the nipple or breast
- Swelling of one arm
- Unexplained weight loss
- Skin ulcers
What are the stages of breast cancer?
Doctors have divided breast cancer into five levels, or stages. These are:
Stage 0 – At this early stage the cancer cells are limited to the part of the breast where they started.
Stage I – In Stage I, the tumor has grown but is no larger than two centimeters and has not spread.
Stage II – At this stage, the tumor is between two to five centimeters in size, or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm on the same side as the breast cancer.
Stage III – By this stage, the tumor has grown to two inches. The cancer has also grown in the underarm lymph nodes or has spread to other lymph nodes or tissues nearby.
Stage IV – Stage IV breast cancer means that the disease has spread widely through the body.
Planning breast cancer treatment
Most women will have some type of surgery if they have breast cancer. There are other treatments as well. Make sure you understand your choices, then decide what’s best for you. Your treatment plan may include the following treatments, separately or together:
- Removal of the cancerous cells with surgery.
- Weakening the cancer with anti-cancer drugs (this is called “chemotherapy”).
- Using drugs that target the cancer cells directly.
- Bombarding the cancer with high-energy rays (this is called “radiation therapy”).
- Therapy with hormones. This approach can help certain types of breast cancer but not others.
Life with and after breast cancer
Today, more women survive breast cancer than ever before. In many cases, the disease can be treated and life can go on. Here are some things that can help you cope if you have breast cancer.
- Rely on your family and friends – Everyone needs help dealing with cancer. Get as much support as you can from family and friends.
- Talk with your doctor – Your doctor can also help by giving you information about your treatments and your progress.
- Connect with outside groups – Many support groups help people cope with breast cancer. Get in touch with organizations like the American Cancer Society for more information.
Hopefully your treatment will take care of the cancer and you’ll be back to good health. However, it’s possible that the cancer may return, which is why you’ll need to see your doctor regularly.
Regional Cancer Care Associates — We want you to win against cancer
Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) works with you to help you prevail against cancer. We make sure every patient gets the highest-quality, most comprehensive, and most advanced treatment. At RCCA, we’ll take care of you as soon as possible, sometimes even the same day. We’ll help you explore coverage and payment options and work to lower the financial impact of your treatment. We work with every patient, individually, to make sure your care is second to none.