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Breast Cancer

Breast cancers are malignant tumors that arise from the uncontrolled growth of cells in the breast. Occurring primarily in the ducts that transport milk to the nipple during lactation (breast feeding), and secondarily in the lobules, the glands that produce milk, breast cancers are distinct from cancers that may spread to the breasts from other parts of the body.
Each year, more women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer than with any other cancer, with the exception of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 178,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in women in the U.S. in 2007 and that about 40,460 women died from the disease. Men can also develop the disease. ACS estimates that about 2,030 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and about 450 men died. The rest of this article will focus on breast cancer in women. It is recommended that men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer speak to their doctor for information specific to them and see the ACS’s web site All About Breast Cancer in Men.

Breast cancer can develop at any age, but the risk of developing it increases as women get older. While 5% to 10% of breast cancers are related to an inherited defect in one of two breast cancer genes (BRCA-1 or BRCA-2), the majority of cases develop for reasons we do not yet understand. As a general rule, those at higher risk of developing breast cancer include women whose close relatives have had the disease, women who have had a previous breast cancer in the other breast, women who have not had children, and women who had their first child after the age of 30. Each breast cancer will have its own characteristics. Some are slow growing; others can be aggressive. Some are sensitive to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, while others can over-express proteins. The cancer’s characteristics can affect treatment choices and the potential for the cancer to recur.

Breast cancer may be divided into three stages, reflecting the extent to which the cancer has spread in the body.

Early stage breast cancer that is confined to its original location is known as noninvasive cancer. If the cancer is confined to the ducts, it is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), and if it is confined to the lobules, it is called lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). At this stage, the cancer cannot be felt as a lump in the breast, but DCIS can sometimes be detected by mammography.
Invasive stage breast cancer is characterized by a spread of the cancer beyond the ducts or lobules and into the surrounding areas of breast tissue. At this stage, the cancer may be detected through a breast self-exam, by a clinical breast exam performed by a health care professional, or by mammography.
Metastatic stage breast cancer is cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body, including nearby lymph nodes. At this stage, treatment requires the combined effort of several specialists, including surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists.

Signs and Symptoms
It is important to remember that most lumps found in the breast are not cancerous but are benign and that the symptoms and signs associated with breast cancer may be due to other causes. Signs and symptoms include:

Mass or lump in the breast
Breast skin dimpling, reddening, or thickening
Nipple retraction
Breast swelling or pain
Nipple pain and/or discharge
Swelling or lumps in adjacent underarm lymph node


"Breast Cancer." Lab Tests Online. 7/13/11. Lab Tests Online, Web. 9/2/11.
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