Detecting Breast Cancer

Dr. catherine Jones

By Catherine Jones, M.D.

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the breast.  The tissue within the breast is made up of ducts and lobes. Each breast has around 20 lobes.  These lobes are made of smaller sections called lobules. Lobules end in bulbs that produce milk. The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are linked by tubes called ducts.
Each breast also has both lymph and blood vessels.  Lymph, a colorless fluid, is carried through the lymph vessels.  Lymph vessels go to lymph nodes.  Lymph nodes are small oval shaped structures that are located throughout the body.  The lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid and help fight infection and disease. These lymph nodes are found under the arm (axilla), above the collarbone, and in the chest.
Ductal cancer is the most common type of breast cancer.  Ductal cancer begins within the ducts or ductules.  If the cancer begins in the lobular structures, it is called lobular cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon type of breast cancer in which the breast is warm, red, and swollen.
Risk factors for breast cancer can include:   older age, early age at start of menstruation, having a mother or sister with breast cancer, genetic abnormalities, prior exposure of the breast or chest wall to radiation and estrogen or progesterone hormone therapy.
I would recommend that self breast examination be performed monthly.  If there is the presence of a lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm, a change in the size of the breast, dimpling of the skin of the breast to make it appear like the skin of an orange, a nipple that turns inward or fluid from the nipple other than breast milk then there needs to be formal evaluation by a doctor.
Your physician will perform an examination, request x-ray evaluation with mammogram and ultrasound evaluation followed by biopsy.  Biopsy is the removal of a portion of the abnormal tissue in order for the pathologist to view it under the microscope to determine if it is cancer.
There are factors that affect the chance of recovery from breast cancer, such as  the size of tumor and whether it has spread to other places in the body, a woman’s age and menopause status.
If the breast abnormality is confined with the lobule or duct and does not involve the surrounding areas within the breast tissue it is called a carcinoma in situ and is stage 0.
If the tumor is no larger than the size of a peanut (2cm) and/or there is the presence of a small amount of cancer cells (less than 2mm) within the lymph nodes then this is stage I disease.
Stage II disease occurs when the cancer is greater than 2cm with or without lymph node involvement.
Stage III disease occurs when the tumor, if present, of any size, may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast and may have spread to a large number of lymph nodes of the axilla, or lymph nodes above or below the collarbone or lymph nodes near the breastbone.
When breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body it is called metastatic or stage IV disease.
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