What is Breast Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too.
How is breast cancer staged?
According to the American Cancer Society, stage describes the extent of the cancer in the body and is one of the most important factors in determining prognosis and treatment. It is based on the following criteria:
Staging is the process of finding out how widespread a cancer is when it is diagnosed. Depending on the results of your physical exam and biopsy, your doctor may want you to have certain imaging tests such as a chest x-ray, mammograms of both breasts, bone scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and/or positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Blood tests may also be done to evaluate your overall health and sometimes can indicate if the cancer has spread to certain organs.
Stages range between I and IV, with I being the least advanced, and IV being the most advanced. In addition, the stage describes the size of the tumor, the number of lymph nodes involved and any spread to other parts of the body.
The American Cancer Society provides details on the various types of breast cancer.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides details on how a breast cancer is diagnosed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states cancer mortality can be reduced if cases are detected and treated early. There are 2 components of early detection efforts:
The awareness of early signs and symptoms for cancer types such as cervical or breast in order to get them diagnosed and treated at early stage. In absence of any early detection or screening and treatment intervention, patients are diagnosed at very late stages when curative treatment is no longer an option.
Screening aims to identify individuals with abnormalities suggestive of a specific cancer or pre-cancer and refer them promptly for treatment or when feasible for diagnosis and treatment. Screening programmes are especially effective for frequent cancer types for which cost-effective, affordable, acceptable and accessible screening tests are available to the majority of the population at risk.
Examples of screening methods are:
Create a plan for regular exams & screenings by visiting Early Detection Plan
What to Ask the Dr.
What should you ask your doctor about breast cancer?
It is important for you to have frank, open discussions with your cancer care team. Don't be afraid to ask questions, no matter how minor you might think they are. Some questions to consider:
What type of breast cancer do I have? How does this affect my treatment options and prognosis?
Has my cancer spread to lymph nodes or internal organs?
What is the stage of my cancer and how does it affect my treatment options and outlook?
Do I need to have other tests done before we can decide on treatment?
What are my doctor's qualifications for treating me with this illness?
Should I consider genetic testing?
Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?
What treatments are appropriate for me? What do you recommend? Why?
What are the risks and side effects that I should expect?
How effective will breast reconstruction surgery be if I need or want it?
What are the pros and cons of having it done right away or waiting until later?
What will my breasts look and feel like after my treatment? Will I have normal sensation in them?
How long will treatment last? What will it be like? Where will it be done?
What should I do to get ready for treatment?
Will I need a blood transfusion?
Should I follow a special diet or make other lifestyle changes?
What are the chances my cancer will come back with the treatment programs we have discussed? What would we do if that happens?
Will I go through menopause as a result of the treatment?
Will I be able to have children after my treatment?
What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
Be sure to write down any questions that occur to you that are not on this list. For instance, you might want specific information about recovery times so that you can plan your work schedule. Or you may want to ask about second opinions. Taking another person and/or a tape recorder to the appointment can be helpful. Collecting copies of your medical records, pathology reports, and radiology reports may be useful in case you wish to seek a second opinion at a later time.