HEALTH EDUCATION MONTH TOPIC

Protect Your Health

Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? While you can’t usually prevent cancer, it is important to be proactive about your health. 

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. 

Facts About Breast Cancer In The United States

  • In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. as well as 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.

  • 64% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at a localized stage (there is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the breast), for which the 5-year survival rate is 99%.

  • This year, an estimated 42,170 women will die from breast cancer in the U.S.

  • Although rare, men get breast cancer too. In 2020, an estimated 2,620 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in the U.S. and approximately 520 will die.

  • 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It is estimated that in 2020, approximately 30% of all new women cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer.

  • There are over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

  • On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.

A Global Burden

According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year and affecting countries at all levels of modernization.

Good News About Breast Cancer Trends

In recent years, perhaps coinciding with the decline in prescriptive hormone replacement therapy after menopause, we have seen a gradual reduction in female breast cancer incidence rates among women aged 50 and older. Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, in part due to better screening and early detection, increased awareness, and continually improving treatment options.

What Is A Tumor?

A tumor is a mass of abnormal tissue. There are two types of breast cancer tumors: those that are non-cancerous, or ‘benign’, and those that are cancerous, which are ‘malignant’.

Benign Tumors

When a tumor is diagnosed as benign, doctors will usually leave it alone rather than remove it. Even though these tumors are not generally aggressive toward surrounding tissue, occasionally they may continue to grow, pressing on organs and causing pain or other problems. In these situations, the tumor is removed, allowing pain or complications to subside.

Malignant tumors

Malignant tumors are cancerous and aggressive because they invade and damage surrounding tissue. When a tumor is suspected to be malignant, the doctor will perform a biopsy to determine the severity or aggressiveness of the tumor.

Metastatic cancer

Metastatic cancer is when cancer cells of a malignant tumor spread to other parts of the body, usually through the lymph system, and form a secondary tumor.

Breast Anatomy

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.

Knowing your body helps you to:

  • Make informed decisions.

  • Have a better dialogue with your doctor.

  • Be aware of anything unusual.

Adipose Tissue

The female breast is mostly made up of a collection of fat cells called adipose tissue. This tissue extends from the collarbone down to the underarm and across to the middle of the ribcage.

Lobes, Lobules, And Milk Ducts

A healthy female breast is made up of 12–20 sections called lobes. Each of these lobes is made up of many smaller lobules, the gland that produces milk in nursing women. Both the lobes and lobules are connected by milk ducts, which act as stems or tubes to carry the milk to the nipple. These breast structures are generally where the cancer begins to form.

A healthy female breast is made up of 12–20 sections called lobes. Each of these lobes is made up of many smaller lobules, the gland that produces milk in nursing women. Both the lobes and lobules are connected by milk ducts, which act as stems or tubes to carry the milk to the nipple. These breast structures are generally where the cancer begins to form.

 

What Causes Breast Cancer Growth?

There is much that we know and much that we have yet to understand. However, we do know that cancer spreads in three important ways:

  1. Damaged cells replicate, creating more damaged cells and tumor growth.

  2. Our body’s hormones and chemicals can accelerate the growth of some tumors.

  3. Lymph and blood vessels can carry the cancer to others areas of the body, and lymph node examination can help pinpoint the progression of the disease.

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. Aggressive cell growth can form a tumor (or mass of tissue) that does not function as originally intended. These abnormal cells or groups of cells can progress into the disease known as breast cancer and can spread to other parts of the body.

The growth and spread of breast cancer can be difficult to grasp because cancer cell growth is often fueled by normally healthy chemicals of the body, like estrogen, progesterone, and the HER2/neu gene (a growth hormone). Although each of these three bodily chemicals can serve an important healthy function, when a cell becomes cancerous these chemicals can accelerate the growth of breast cancer tumors.

Healthy HER2 receptors are the proteins that help manage how a breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself. However, in about a quarter of all breast cancer patients, the HER2 gene isn’t functioning properly. It makes an excess number of copies of itself in a process known as “HER2 gene amplification.” Then these extra genes instruct the cells to make too many HER2 receptors, which is called “HER2 protein overexpression.” The ultimate result is that breast cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled fashion.

Think of a receptor as a mouth. When open, cancer cells can feed and grow. When blocked off or closed, the same cells begin to starve.

By identifying the cancer’s unique receptors, your doctor can recommend effective treatment methods to block the receptors. Remember, inhibiting the cancer’s “food supply” works to restrict the cancer’s growth. Ideally, your treatment plan will stop the cancer growth before it spreads through the lymph system and on to other tissue and organs in the body.

The Lymph System

The lymph system, which is part of the immune system, is a network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes running throughout the entire body. Similar to how the blood circulatory system distributes elements throughout the body, the lymph system transports disease-fighting cells and fluids. Clusters of bean-shaped lymph nodes are fixed in areas throughout the lymph system; they act as filters by carrying abnormal cells away from healthy tissue. 

The lymph system, which is part of the immune system, is a network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes running throughout the entire body. Similar to how the blood circulatory system distributes elements throughout the body, the lymph system transports disease-fighting cells and fluids. Clusters of bean-shaped lymph nodes are fixed in areas throughout the lymph system; they act as filters by carrying abnormal cells away from healthy tissue. 

The type of breast cancer is generally determined by the origin of the growth of cancer cells, which is almost always in the lobes, lobules, or ducts. When cancer is found in the nearby lymph nodes, it helps doctors identify just how far the cancer has spread. If the nearest nodes contain cancer, additional nodes are usually examined for the presence or absence of cancer cells to understand how far the disease has progressed.

Page Last Updated 10/14/2020

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