Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of breast tissue. It tends to affect women more than men. In the United States, 12 percent of all adult women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point during their lifetime.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, apart from non-malignant skin cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer. Invasive breast cancer is aggressive, and nearly 40,000 American women will succumb to their cancer before the end of the year.
Fortunately, the breast cancer death rates in America have declined in recent years partly due to early detection and screening. More than 63,000 new cases of early-stage breast cancer were diagnosed in 2012. Many of these women will survive the disease because they caught it early enough for successful treatment.
Breast Cancer Detection
Breast self-exam (BSE) is a good way for women to become familiar with the way their normal breasts look and feel. Doctors do not recommend BSE as a screening tool, but it can help women recognize changes in their breasts to detect early signs of cancer.
Breast lumps, swelling or darkening of the breast, nipple discharge, puckered skin, constant pain, and changes in breast shape or size are early warning signs of breast cancer. Medical tests and procedures are the only way to know for sure if a woman has breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Doctors use a number of procedures and tests to diagnose breast cancer. A thorough breast exam is the first step in detecting breast cancer. Doctors check the breasts in various positions as they feel for lumps and look for abnormalities.
Mammograms are the most common ways to screen for breast cancer. A mammogram is a low-dose C-ray of the breasts. The X-ray images depict various views of the breast, including views from the side and top of breasts. Abnormalities appear as shadows on the images.
Doctors order breast ultrasounds to further screen for breast cancer. An ultrasound helps a doctor determine whether a breast lump is a fluid-filled cyst or solid mass. Ultrasounds are also helpful for guiding biopsies if a solid mass is found in the breast.
A biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of suspicious cells in the breast tissue. Samples are sent to a medical laboratory for testing. An analysis of a biopsy sample helps doctors accurately diagnose cancer and stage the disease.
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests use dyes, magnets and radio waves to create interior pictures of a breast. Doctors may order this test to confirm a biopsy result. MRI images also show doctors the extent of breast cancer before surgery.