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Breast Cancer

Occurring in both men and women, breast cancer forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts and lobules. Each breast is divided into 15-20 sections called lobes. Lobes contain many smaller lobules. Lobules contain groups of tiny glands that can produce milk. The breasts also contain lymph vessels, which carry a clear fluid called lymph. The lymph vessels lead to small, round organs called lymph nodes. Groups of lymph nodes are found near the breast in the axilla, above the collarbone, in the chest behind the breastbone, and in many other parts of the body.

No one knows the exact cause of breast cancer, although there are many risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing the disease. Some of the risk factors are age, personal history of breast cancer, family history, certain breast changes, genetic alterations, reproductive and menstrual history, race, radiation therapy to chest, breast density, taking diethylstilbestrol, being obese after menopause, physical inactivity, and, use of alcoholic beverages. A woman should talk with her health care provider about personal risk of getting breast cancer and screenings available to detect breast cancer. Screenings available to detect breast cancer before any symptoms would arise are: mammogram, clinical breast exam, and breast self-exam. Symptoms that women should watch for are a change in how the breast or nipple feels, a change in how the breast or nipple looks, and nipple discharge.

If a woman has a breast change, her doctor must determine whether it is due to breast cancer or some other cause. Additional tests that are performed to determine this are clinical breast exam, diagnostic mammography, ultrasound, MRI, and/or biopsy. Often, tissue must be removed from the breast to help the physician determine if cancer is present. If the diagnosis is cancer, the physician needs to know the stage of the disease to determine treatment plan. Staging may involve x-rays and labs and often the extent of the cancer is not known until after surgery to remove the tumor in the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm. Once the testing is complete and staging is done, your physician will discuss all available treatment options consisting of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy.

A treatment plan that is best for you will then be decided upon by you and your healthcare team.

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