A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer

Breast cancer isn’t what it was 20 years ago. Survival rates are climbing, thanks to greater awareness, more early detection, and advances in treatment. For roughly 284,000 Americans who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

First, don’t panic. Eighty percent of breast lumps aren’t cancerous. They often turn out to be harmless cysts or tissue changes related to your menstrual cycle. But let your doctor know right away if you find anything unusual in your breast. If it is cancer, the earlier it’s found, the better. And if it isn’t, testing can give you peace of mind.

This turns your body’s own disease-fighting powers against cancer. Drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors target certain proteins on immune system cells. They make it harder for cancer cells to evade attacks. Immunotherapy is sometimes used to treat advanced cancer.

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Symptoms – Breast cancer in women

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The odds of beating breast cancer are strongly tied to how early you find it. The American Cancer Society says 99% of women with stage I breast cancer live at least 5 years, and many women in this group remain cancer-free for good. The more advanced the cancer, the lower this figure becomes. By Stage IV, the 5-year survival rate drops to 29%. But these rates will rise as more effective treatments are found.

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Breast Cancer Stages

If breast cancer is the diagnosis, the next step is to figure out how big the tumor is and how much of your body it affects. This process is called staging. Doctors use stages 0-IV to describe whether cancer is only in the breast, has moved into nearby lymph nodes, or has spread to other organs like the lungs. Knowing the stage and type of breast cancer will help your health care team create a treatment plan.

Breastcancer.org: “Understanding Hormone Receptors and What They Do.”

A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer

Mammogram images: Normal, abnormal, and breast cancer

Instead of reconstruction, you can be fitted for a breast form. This is a breast-shaped prosthesis that fits inside your bra. Wearing one allows you to have a balanced look when you’re dressed. Like the surgery, breast forms are often covered by insurance.

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Targeted Treatments

This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells anywhere in the body. They’re often given by IV, but they can be taken by mouth or a shot. You might have it before surgery to shrink a large tumor or after to lower the odds of your cancer coming back. In women with advanced breast cancer, chemo can help control the cancer’s growth. Side effects may include hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and a higher risk of infection.

There are many types of breast cancer surgery, from taking out the area around the lump (lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery) to removing the entire breast (mastectomy.) Talk about the pros and cons of each with your doctor to decide what’s right for you.

Get to know what is normal for you – for instance, your breasts may look or feel different at different times of your life. This will make it easier to notice potential problems.

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Some women have a high risk of breast cancer because they got changes, or mutations, in certain genes at birth. The genes most often involved in breast cancer are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with mutations in these genes have a higher chance of getting breast cancer at some point in life than those who don’t. Other genes may be linked to breast cancer risk as well.

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Hormone Therapy

This is for women with ER-positive or PR-positive breast cancer. These cancers grow faster in response to the hormones estrogen or progesterone. Hormone therapy can block this effect. It might be used after surgery to help keep the cancer from coming back. Doctors sometimes give it to women with high risk factors to reduce the chances of getting breast cancer.

In up to 15% of breast cancers the tumor cells are lacking estrogen or progesterone receptors and have only small amounts of the HER2 protein. Doctors call this type of breast cancer “triple negative.” It tends to grow and spread faster than other types. Hormone therapy or targeted drugs aren’t helpful for this type. But there are other treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

It’s important to be breast aware so you notice any changes as soon as possible.

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Everything About 5 Stages of Breast Cancer With Treatments

Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by a doctor.

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Your doctor may order an extra test that takes pictures of the inside of your body. A breast ultrasound can help find cysts, fluid-filled sacs that most often aren’t cancer. You might get an MRI along with a mammogram as part of your routine testing if you have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Doctors continue to search for treatments that work better and are easier to undergo. Funding for this research comes from many sources, including advocacy groups throughout the country. Many of the 3.8 million breast cancer survivors and their families choose to participate in walk-a-thons and other fundraising events. This links each individual fight against cancer into a common effort for progress.

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