Recent News & General Info.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a complex disease and occurs when cells in the body begin to grow chaotically. Normally, cells grow, divide, and produce more cells to keep the body healthy and functioning properly. Sometimes, however, the process goes astray; cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed. Some types of cells are more prone to abnormal growth than others. The mass of extra cells forms a growth or tumor, which can be benign or malignant.
Benign tumors are not cancer. They often can be removed and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. More importantly, benign tumors are rarely life threatening.
Malignant tumors are cancer. Cells in malignant tumors are abnormal and divide without control or order. These cancer cells can invade and destroy the tissue around them. In a process called metastasis, cancerous cells break away from the organs on which they are growing and travel to other parts of the body, where they continue to grow. Cells from cancerous ovaries, for example, commonly spread to the abdomen and nearby internal organs. Eventually, they travel throughout the body by invading the two systems of vessels that bathe and feed all of the body’s organs; the bloodstream and lymph system.
Tumors that originate in the brain are a relatively rare form of cancer, with only about 22,500 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. The outlook for these patients is not good because most types of brain tumors are malignant and difficult to fully remove. Brain tumors account for only 1.4% of all cancers, but 2.4% of all cancer-related deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 13,000 people will die this year from malignant brain tumors.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, excluding cancers of the skin. While it usually affects women, in rare cases men can also get breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, each year in the United States, an estimated 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur and an estimated 40,000 women will die from breast cancer. The death rate for women with breast cancer has declined recently, which is probably the result of earlier detection and improved treatment.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
There are several types of breast tumors. In fact, some of the most common lumps in the breasts aren’t really “tumors” at all – many lumps are fibrocystic changes, which are not malignant. Other types of tumors are malignant. Some common breast cancers include:
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): the cancer is confined to the ducts and has not spread through the walls of the ducts into the fatty tissue of the breast. Nearly all women with cancer at this stage can be cured.
Infiltrating (invasive) ductal carcinoma (IDC): the cancer starts in a milk passage or duct, breaks through the wall of the duct, and invades the fatty tissue of the breast. From there it can spread to other parts of the body. IDC is the most common type of breast cancer. It accounts for nearly 80% of breast cancers.
Infiltrating (invasive) lobular carcinoma (ILC): This cancer starts in the milk glands (lobules). It can spread to other parts of the body. Between 10% and 15% of invasive breast cancers are of this type.
Screening is the most important way to find breast cancer early.
The American Cancer Society recommends:
• Mammogram yearly (for women 40 and over)
• Clinical breast exam (CBE) yearly (for women 40 and over; every 3 years prior to this)
• Breast self-examination (BSE) every month (for women over 20)
These screening criteria are set up because the most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A lump that is painless, hard, and has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer. It’s important to have anything unusual checked by a physician.
Other signs of breast cancer include the following:
• Swelling in any area of the breast
• Skin irritation or dimpling
• Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
• Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk
• Lump in the underarm area
If breast cancer is found early, prompt treatment could save a life. Mammograms are used most commonly to X-ray the breast and use very low levels of radiation. During a mammogram, the breast is pressed between two plates for a few seconds while pictures are taken. Although this may cause some discomfort, it is necessary to get a good picture. The current standard of care for diagnosis of breast cancer relies on physical examination, mammography and/or ultrasound, and fine needle aspiration to diagnose breast cancer. A PET/CT scan can show whether or not a lump in the breast is benign or malignant, and may prove to be a very useful addition to mammography. Patients with breast implants, dense breasts, and others may benefit from having a PET/CT scan to locate abnormalities. The earlier that breast cancer is found, the better the chances for successful treatment.