Breast Cancer Q & A

Evan Gold April 20, 2011 0
Breast Cancer Q & A

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order. Each organ in the body is made up of various kinds of cells. Cells normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. This process helps keep the body healthy. If cells divide when new cells are not needed, they form too much tissue. This extra tissue, called a tumor, can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. Eighty percent of all breast tumors are benign. They can usually be removed and, in most cases, they don’t come back. Most important, the cells in benign tumors do not invade other tissues and do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign breast tumors are not life-threatening. Malignant tumors are cancer. The cancer cells grow and divide out of control, invading and damaging nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how breast cancer spreads and forms secondary tumors in other parts of the body. This spread of cancer is called metastasis.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.

 How common is breast cancer in the United States? 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, aside from skin cancer.

What are the breast cancer “risk factors?

” To predict when and in whom breast cancer will occur, scientists must often think like detectives, looking for clues to signal which women may be more likely than others to develop the disease. These clues are called “risk factors.”

To identify risk factors, scientists continually examine various trends and patterns among women worldwide who are diagnosed with the disease. Age, individual and family medical history, reproductive history, genetic alterations, race, economic status, environmental exposures to pollutants and lifestyle habits are all examples of the factors that can be evaluated. This information tells a scientific story that helps experts predict with some certainty a woman’s odds for developing breast cancer. It’s important to note, however, that this is not an exact science and that such predictions are not definite.

What are the treatments for breast cancer?

The basic treatment choices for breast cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, which may or may not be included in the treatment regimen, depending on hormonal involvement in the growth of the tumor. Local treatments such as breast surgery and radiation therapy are focused on the breast itself to remove or destroy the cancer cells confined to the breast. Systemic treatment such as chemotherapy aims to destroy the cancer cells that may have spread throughout the body.

Newer experimental treatments include biologically targeted therapies which currently, are only available through clinical trials. A patient and her physician will choose the treatment that is right for her, based on the location and extent of the cancer, patient’s age and preferences and the risks and benefits of each treatment.
Surgery may be performed to remove the cancerous tumor and may also be performed to allow for diagnostic testing of tumor tissue.
Radiation therapy uses penetrating beams of high-energy waves or streams of particles to kill and hinder the growth of cancer cells. In metastatic disease, radiation is most commonly used to treat symptoms in breast cancer that has spread to the bone.

Chemotherapy may be used if it is believed the breast cancer will not respond to hormonal treatment. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that target and destroy rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells. It is frequently used in metastatic breast cancer and used in locally advanced breast cancer to shrink the tumor and make it operable.

Hormonal therapy can be used to slow the growth, spread and recurrence of breast cancer. If the cancer is found to be of the type that may be sensitive to estrogen, hormonal treatment may be able to keep estrogen from helping the cancer cells to grow and divide. The presence of estrogen receptors (a message-carrying protein that may stimulate tumor growth) in the cancerous tumor is the best way to predict a woman’s response to hormonal treatment.

Biologically targeted therapy covers a range of new options that are to be added to the family of cancer treatments. These therapies target specific features of cancer cells to fight cancer. Since these therapies are specific, they are intended to have less effect on normal cells, which may reduce the chance of possible side effects, like those caused by current cancer treatments.

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