One of the worst things that can happen to a woman is to find a lump in one or both of her breasts. Breast cancer can also occur in men, although it’s rare. Regardless of the person’s sex, early detection is important in the treatment process.
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, in 1999 more than 1,500 people died of cancer each day, and nearly 5 million lives have been lost to cancer since 1990. ACS estimated that in 2001, the number of breast cancer cases was expected to rise to 192,200, and 40,600 deaths would result from breast cancer. Breast cancer is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women.
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that forms from the cells in the breast. These cancer cells form a lump or mass called a tumor. The cells can break away and travel to other parts of the body to grow. The most important factors in a woman’s prognosis are to determine the cancer’s size and extent to which it has spread. Finding the cancer early improves the recovery rate. Early detection tests save thousands of lives each year, says ACS.
Most lumps are benign, and are caused by fibrocystic changes. These cysts are fluid-filled sacs, and fibrosis is the scar tissue that forms. Breast swelling and pain are symptoms of fibrocystic changes. Breasts may feel lumpy, and sometimes there is a clear or slightly cloudy discharge. The cysts are not life-threatening and cannot spread outside the breast to other organs.
If a lump is found, there are several types of biopsies that determine whether it is cancerous, including fine needle aspiration biopsy, core biopsy and surgical biopsy. If the lump is cancerous, the surgeon removes as much of the cancer as possible. Surgery may also be followed by chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation therapy.
The following are surgical procedures that might be performed:
- Lumpectomy: Removes the breast lump and some tissue, and is usually followed by six weeks of radiation therapy.
- Partial mastectomy: Removes more of the breast tissue than a lumpectomy and is usually followed by six to seven weeks of external beam radiation therapy.
- Simple or total mastectomy: Removes the entire breast.
- Modified radical mastectomy: Removes the entire breast and some of the lymph nodes under the arm.
- Radical mastectomy: Extensive removal of the breast, lymph nodes and the chest wall muscles underneath the breast. This surgery is rare, as the modified radical mastectomy is preferred.
- Axillary dissection: Removes underarm lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread to the nodes.
Chemotherapy is given in a vein or by mouth, and once the drugs enter the bloodstream they spread throughout the body. It can reduce the chance of breast cancer returning after surgery, and can be used as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread outside the breast and underarm area, says ACS. The total treatment lasts three to six months.
Radiation therapy is a treatment in which high-energy rays kill or shrink cancer cells. The radiation may be given externally or placed directly in the tumor. Radiation may be used to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery. Treatment begins one month after surgery at an outpatient clinic, and lasts for about six weeks.
Other treatments may include hormone therapy, bone marrow transplantation, immunotherapy, clinical trials, and alternative and complementary therapies.
Men and breast cancer
Male breast cancer is rare, and like female breast cancer, early detection can lead to recovery. ACS recommends a yearly cancer-related health checkup for men and women age 40 and older. Many times, breast cancer in men may have been found earlier through a yearly cancer examination.
Men should look for the same symptoms as women, and most lumps in men are not cancer. Men may also have a mammogram performed. Because they have very little breast tissue, it’s easier for men and their health care providers to feel small masses. Women are more aware of this disease and are more likely to detect lumps, while men often ignore lumps and do not get medical treatment as soon as it’s needed.
For more information on breast cancer, call the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345, or visit its website at www.cancer.org. The National Cancer Institute can be reached at (800) 4-CANCER, or visit its website at www.nci.nih.gov. The telephone number for the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations is (888) 80-NABCO, and its website is www.nabco.org.
Health Care on the Go
Clinic near I-95 in Virginia caters to truckers
Although most truckers’ lives are consumed with time on the road, they can still work toward staying healthy and cancer-free.
One clinic near Richmond, Va., helps truckers do that. Located 1/4-mile off I-95, Air Park Medical and Occupational Health Services is within a few short miles of a truckstop and also offers truck parking for its customers.
“Over 90 percent of our business is truckers,” says Chrissy Brubaker, clinic director. “We do lots of D.O.T. physicals, and stress cancer prevention and teach self-exams.”
For a detailed list of clinics that offer cancer-related heath care in your area, contact the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345.
All women should know the steps of early detection and risk factors of breast cancer
The American Cancer Society says preventive measures and early detection of breast cancer are important. The following are recommendations on early detection and risk factors to consider.
- Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram screening each year.
- Women ages 20 to 39 should have a clinical breast examination by a health professional every three years.
- Women age 20 or older should perform a breast self-examination every month.
- Look for changes in your breasts such as a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk.
- Discuss any lumps with your health care professional. The doctor can determine whether additional tests are needed.
The following are risk factors in breast cancer:
- Gender: Women have a 100 times greater risk of breast cancer than men.
- Aging: About 77 percent of women with breast cancer are over 50 when diagnosed.
- Genetic risk factors: Heredity accounts for 10 percent of breast cancer cases.
- Family history: The risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have breast cancer.
- Personal history: A woman with breast cancer in one breast has a three- to fourfold-increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast.
- Race: White women have a slightly higher risk than other races, and African-American women are more likely to die due to late diagnosis.
- Early menstrual periods: Women who started menstruating before age 12.
- Menopause: Women who went through menopause after age 50.
Other risks include:
- Oral contraceptives
- Estrogen replacement or hormone replacement therapy
- Obesity and high-fat diets