“The big C”, so it is called. Regardless of the part of the body that is affected, a diagnosis of cancer is a frightening one.

Breast cancer is number two behind skin cancer as the most prevalent form in women.  It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.  Breast cancer is not limited to women, as evidenced by the increasing number of men affected by this disease.

Cancer is an abnormal multiplication of cells that, in a sense, go crazy.  These cells grow, divide, and create new cells that the body does not need and that do not function normally.  The extra cells form a mass called a tumor.  Some tumors are benign, or non-cancerous, while others are malignant, or cancerous, and can cause death.

Several methods are recommended to aid in the prevention of breast cancer.  They include:

  • Mammogram - an X-ray of the breast. It is the best method for detecting the breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.  Having regular mammograms can lower your risk of dying from breast cancer.  If you are age 50 to 74 years, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years.  If you are age 40–49 years, talk to your doctor about when and how often you should have a screening mammogram.

  • Clinical breast exam - an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.

  • Breast self-exam – checking your own breasts for lumps, changes in size or shape, or any other changes in the breasts or underarm (armpit).

 The warning signs of breast cancer include: 

·           New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).

·           Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.

·           Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.

·           Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.

·           Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.

·           Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.

·           Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.

·           Pain in any area of the breast.

As with many types of cancer, breast cancer is differentiated in stages: 

·       Stage 0:  noninvasive breast cancer.

·       Stage I:  although serious, no lymph nodes are affected and the cancer is contained within the breast.  Tumors at this stage measure no more than two centimeters in diameter (a quarter of an inch).

·       Stage II: one of the following is true - the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes surrounding the breast; the tumor has a diameter of 2 to 5cm and may or may not be present in the nodes under the arm; or the tumor is more than 5 cm but no nodes are affected.

·       Stage III:  based on multiple criteria, breast cancers at this stage are divided into three categories (IIIA, IIIB and IIIC), and by definition, have not spread to distant sites within the body. 

·       Stage IV:  the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, bones or brain.

The treatments currently available for breast cancer include, but are not limited to, the following:

·       Surgery :  an operation to remove cancerous tissue.

·       Chemotherapy: drugs in the form of pills and/or IV that attack the cancer cells directly.

·       Hormonal therapy:  treatment is specific to the type of cancer cells that are present and prevents cell growth by blocking hormones to those cells.

·       Biological therapy:  helps the patient cope with the side effects of other medications, which in a sense, supports the patient’s immune system.

·       Radiation:  localized treatment directly to the affected body part, using rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancerous cells.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your health care provider is the best source for helping you to determine the best treatment option for your specific case.  Self-education is key to making sound decisions, so take charge of your health now. Many websites, including those listed below, have a plethora of information. When you are knowledgeable, you are powerful and you regain control of your health.

For additional information, please visit these websites :