According to most sources, breast cancer is ‘cancer of the breast tissue’. Not very helpful. But digging a little deeper makes the answer clear. Cancer is a malignant growth or tumor caused by abnormal or uncontrolled cell division. Normal cells become misshapen and grow too rapidly. The result is a mass or lump that continues to grow and may spread.
Not every breast lump is cancerous, in fact the majority of them are benign. They will reach a specific size and level off. They might be soft and filled with fluid- similar to cysts. These lumps could also be fibroadenomas that do not spread or grow. They could also be scar tissue or just hardened fat.
But a true cancer in breast tissues is malignant and serious. Nearly 90% are a type known as ductal carcinoma (sometimes called DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ). Somewhat less than 10% of the rest are lobular carcinomas (LCIS). In both cases lumps may appear as a thickening in some part of the breast, or even in the armpit. Lymph nodes are located there and sometimes play a role in the development of the disease.
The American College of Physicians recommends self-examination beginning around age 20 and regular mammograms after age 40.
You shouldn’t be alarmed at every single breast change, however a significant alteration in the size or shape of the breast after maturity is a sign to look for. Fluid might also seep from the nipple that doesn’t resemble milk. If you have cancer the fluid will show itself as a form of pus, which indicates infection.
The nipple or areola could also alter in both size and shape.
Breast cancer develops in stages that mark the disease progression.
Stage 0 is the initial showing of the condition. Breast cancer is labeled Stage I when the tumor is fewer than 2cm thick and has not started to spread. At Stage II tumors are usually between 2-5cm thick and there could be other areas of the body that are also effected. If the disease reaches Stage III it has penetrated the chest wall. By this time the treatment is very difficult and the survival rate isn’t as great.
Stage IV is the most serious cancer stage. At this venue the cancer has begun to spread forming tumors that are secondary in other areas. They are similar to the initial growth. Cancers of this type are often very fatal.
Because of the stages of cancer, and health consequences that are present at each level, looking for treatment and diagnosis early is important. A simple lumpectomy is capable of curing the condition completely. If it progresses to the point that chemotherapy or radiation is necessary the odds of recovery are lower and the cure is usually as bad as the disease.
Much progress has be made over the past 40 years. The equipment available today allows for a much greater diagnosis. Treatments have also evolved to make the cure not as painful and more sure.
Cancer at any stage is definitely something to be concerned with, however there is a 95% survival rate for individual’s whose cancer is quickly identified and treated by Stage I. You have a greater chance of survival if you monitor yourself and get treatment quickly.