Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and the second most common cancer related death in women. It is usually detected upon noticing a lump or a noticeable change in breast shape, or an abnormality on a mammogram. Early breast cancer is seldom painful.
Recently, a heightened sense of breast cancer awareness has led women all over the US to undergo mammograms more regularly, which has resulted in improved survival rates since a diagnosis of breast cancer is being made earlier than ever before in history.
The best tests to determine a diagnosis of breast cancer is a pre-emptive self-examination. No person knows a woman’s body as good as she would herself. A lump is usually the size of a pea before it can be felt by the human hand.
If a lump, or change in breast shape is discovered during self-examination, doctors can perform different types of tests for breast cancer; including palpation- where your health care provider actually feels the lump. Cancerous lumps actually feel different from benign lumps or cysts; mammography-where x-rays are used to look for abnormalities; and ultra-sonograph-high frequency radio waves not only detect abnormalities in the breast tissue but they can also determine whether a lump is solid or liquid filled.
If the presence of a lump is determined then the doctor will probably order a biopsy, or needle aspiration, to test the tissue for cancer cells. A needle is used to actually draw out a small amount of tissue, which is then tested by a pathologist for cancerous cells.
Sometimes a doctor will test using what is known as surgical biopsy. A surgical biopsy is when a surgeon actually cuts out part, or all, of a lump or suspicious area of the breast. The tissue is then given to a pathologist for testing of breast cancer cells. If the presence of cancer is determined, treatment options can vary. The woman and her health care provider should determine the choice among the different types of treatment options. A few of these choices are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or biological therapy.
Surgery is an option if the tumor is small enough to be removed safely. Sometimes women choose radiation or chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery. Sometimes it is used as a preventative measure following surgery to keep breast cancer tumor from returning. Surgery and radiation are considered local therapy; with surgery being actual surgical removal of the breast cancer tissue, and radiation being used to destroy the breast cancer tissue within the breast.
Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapies are considered systemic therapies. These treatments are administered through the circulatory system. They are given either to destroy the cancer cells, or to control them, throughout the whole body.
Unfortunately, these different types of treatment of breast cancer have an adverse effect on healthy tissues as well, resulting in uncomfortable side effects on the woman’s body. The health care provider should explain these fully. Often, a doctor will refer the woman to a specialist, who will take charge of directing her treatment plan to treat the breast cancer. Quite often, teams of specialists will work together on the treatment, and questions should be allowed and encouraged. More and more medical science is also capable of helping the patient to manage these side effects as well.
If a woman is afraid that she may have breast cancer, there are a variety of support groups available to help, and to guide her through the initial shock and stress that’s sure to result from the diagnosis. She may even want a close family member, or at least a trusted friend, to accompany her during the examination process. An extra person nearby can ask the questions that the patient may not remember which can be a key factor in the treatment of breast cancer.