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  Breast cancer

The breast is a collection of glands and fatty tissue between the skin and the chest wall. Breast cancer is when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and then invade nearby tissues or spread throughout the body. Large collections of this tissue are called tumors.

Breast cancer Cancer
Breast cancer


It may take months or even years for tumors to grow large enough to be detected by normal means, which is why it is so important to have regular mammograms as your doctor directs.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in North America and Europe. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American women - behind only to lung cancer. The lifetime risk of a woman getting breast cancer is about 1 in 8 although the lifetime risk of dying from breast cancer is much lower at 1 in 28.

Risk factors for breast cancer can be divided into ones you can’t change and ones you can. Of the ones that you cannot change, being a woman, getting older, having a family history, having a previous history of breast cancer, having had radiation therapy to the chest region, being Caucasian, getting your periods before 12 years old, having your menopause after 50 years old, never having children or having them when you are older than 30, and having a genetic mutation, all increase your risk.

Factors that you can change include taking hormone replacement therapy, taking birth control pills, not breastfeeding, drinking 2 to 5 alcoholic drinks a day, being overweight (particularly after menopause), and not exercising. Changing these behaviors may reduce your chances of developing a breast malignancy.

The most important thing any woman can do to decrease her risk of dying from breast cancer is to have regular mammogram screening, learn how to perform breast self exams, and have regular physical examinations as suggested by her physician.

Women should get a yearly mammogram starting at age 40. Between the ages of 20 and 39, every woman should have a clinical breast exam every 3 years; and after age 40, every woman should have a clinical breast exam done each year.

Unfortunately, the early stages of breast cancer may not have any recognizable symptoms. As a tumor grows in size, it can produce a variety of symptoms including: lump or thickening in the breast or underarm; change in size or shape of the breast; nipple discharge or nipple turning inward; redness or scaling of the skin or nipple; or ridges or pitting of the breast skin.

Treatments for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biologic therapy.

Once a woman has been treated for breast cancer, they need to be closely followed for any recurrence. Follow-up visits will generally be every 3-4 months. The longer a woman is disease free, the less often she will have to go for checkups. After five years, she will likely see her doctor yearly. She will also have a mammogram yearly.

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