What Is Breast Cancer?
My Mammogram Results Came Back With An Irregularity. Does This Mean I Have Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is one of those taboo subjects, which people don’t normally want to talk about, and so if and when you are advised that your mammogram has identified specific issues and that you might have breast cancer, it can be a worrying time. As with many things in life, uncertainty is sometimes the biggest challenge. Many people will immediately jump on the internet to complete their research, which is quite possibly how you have ended up on this site today.
What Is Breast Cancer?
In layman’s terms, Breast Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of breast cells. That is why women are advised to regularly examine their breasts for signs of lumps or bumps, as in many cases these will be the first symptoms that can be easily identified.
Although there are numerous different types of cancer, they all share similar traits. The genes in the human body control and regulate the growth of cells. Contained within the nucleus of the cells, the role of genes is to ensure that as old cells die off, they are replaced by new cells. To assist with the explanation, let’s pretend that there are 100 cells in the human body. As the first cell comes to the end of its life and dies off, it is replaced by a new cell, and the number of cells remains at 100. Sometimes, however, mutations can occur which disrupt affect the process. This change can change the process, removing any element of control from the genes, and enabling the cells to keep producing new cells without limitation. As more and more cells are produced this can then cause a tumor to develop.
What Is A Tumor?
A tumor is a swelling group of cells with or without any inflammation and can either be benign or malignant.
Benign Tumors – Benign tumors are not dangerous to health, are slow growing cells that are similar to healthy cells. They are not aggressive, nor do they invade nearby tissues. They do not spread to other locations within the body, but will still need to be dealt with by a breast surgeon.
Malignant Tumors – Malignant Tumors are cancerous, and may be very aggressive as they develop. They can spread to other areas of the body via the blood and lymph systems. Malignant tumors need to be treated as a matter of urgency to prevent them from spreading.
When a woman receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, this normally means that she has a malignant tumor. Although the words breast cancer strike fear into everyone leading breast cancer surgeon, Doctor Gorman is quick to point out that “Treatment for breast cancer has improved significantly over the last few years, and success rates continue to rise.”
What Causes Breast Cancer?
There is no definitive answer to this question; there are many women who are in the high-risk category for breast cancer and yet never get it, while others who have no such risk factors do get diagnosed with breast cancer.
Those risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, and advancing age, as the wear and tear of life take its toll.
How Does Breast Cancer Develop?
In the vast majority of cases, breast cancer can normally be traced back to the milk-producing glands of the breast. Over time as the tumor develops it starts attacking the healthy breast tissue, before invading the underarm lymph nodes. Once cancer has invaded the lymph nodes, it now has fast-track access to other areas of the body. When you speak to Doctor Gorman, she will explain to you the stage of your breast cancer. There are five acknowledged stages of breast cancer –
Stage 0 – Often referred to as carcinoma in situ, this is the earliest stage of breast cancer and means that some abnormal but non-invasive cells have been identified in the lining of the breast milk duct. There is no evidence that cancer has spread, and at this stage, the cancer is highly treatable. In many instances, Doctor Gorman may not even refer to this stage as cancer, but will help you with a treatment plan.
Stage 1 – This next stage is where rather than abnormal cells, there is clear evidence of cancer being present. The good news is that provided discovery and treatment are started quickly, success rates when dealing with stage 1 cancer are high with a positive outlook. Stage 1 is normally sub-divided into 1A and 1B. 1A relates to a tumor size that is smaller than 2 centimeters with no evidence of a spread to the lymph nodes. 1B is where there is evidence of a spread to the lymph nodes, but either there is no tumor in the breast, or the size of the tumor is less than 2 centimeters.
Stage 2 – If a patient is diagnosed with Stage 2 Cancer, then the cancer is growing although at this stage the growth is contained to within the breast or lymph nodes. Once again there are subsections for stage 2 which relate to the size of any tumor and whether or not there are signs of cancer in the lymph nodes. The treatment for Stage 2 cancer will, by its very nature, have to be more aggressive than for that of stage 1. However, provided treatment is started early, the outlook is still also positive.
Stage 3 – A diagnosis of Stage 3 cancer means that cancer has now started to spread further than the local area of the tumor. It will not have started to affect other distant organs at this stage. This cancer is classified by many oncologists as being “advanced.” However, this is the stage at which the majority of recent treatment developments have shown significant signs of progress. Some of the treatments involved may include chemotherapy and/or radiation. Depending on the severity of the cancer, Stage 3 can be classified into two means of treatment. It might simply mean that the tumor first needs to be reduced with chemotherapy, and with a positive response to treatment, an operation is then considered further down the line.” It is always important to retain a positive outlook and see how the well your cancer reacts to the treatment.
Stage 4 – Stage 4 breast cancer means that the cancer has now spread to other areas of your body. This could include the lungs, bones or brain. Stage 4 cancer is not considered to be curable but is generally treated as a chronic illness. With modern medical advances, combined with a positive mental attitude and outlook on life, the outlook for many women is much more positive. With medical research and developments occurring all the time, there is always hope looking forward.
Valerie Gorman, MD FACS is a passionate and determined breast surgeon, who commits all of her efforts and energies to providing the best possible treatment she can for her patients. It is her philosophy that she should treat every patient from the initial diagnosis, as she feels that this enables her to provides her with a long-term understanding of the illness, and how it is developing. It is this compassion and attention to detail that endears Doctor Gorman to her breast cancer patients.
Browse our breast cancer resource library.