Breast Cancer

A woman's breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes. Each lobe is made of many smaller sections called lobules. Lobules have groups of tiny glands that can make milk. After a baby is born, a woman's breast milk flows from the lobules through thin tubes called ducts to the nipple. Fat and fibrous tissues fill the spaces between the lobules and ducts. The breasts also contain lymph vessels. These vessels are connected to small, round masses of tissue called lymph nodes. Groups of lymph nodes are near the breast in the underarm (axilla), above the collarbone, and in the chest behind the breastbone.

Breast Cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.

Stages of Breast Cancer:

Stage 0 is sometimes used to describe abnormal cells that are not invasive cancer. For example, Stage 0 is used for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is diagnosed when abnormal cells are in the lining of a breast duct, but the abnormal cells have not invaded nearby breast tissue or spread outside the duct. Although many doctors don't consider DCIS to be cancer, DCIS sometimes becomes invasive breast cancer if not treated.

Stage I is an early stage of invasive breast cancer. Cancer cells have invaded breast tissue beyond where the cancer started, but the cells have not spread beyond the breast. The tumor is no more than 2 centimeters (three-quarters of an inch) across.

Stage II is one of the following:

  • The tumor is no more than 2 centimeters (three-quarters of an inch) across. The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
  • The tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters (three-quarters of an inch to 2 inches). The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
  • The tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters (three-quarters of an inch to 2 inches). The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
  • The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters (2 inches).
  • The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.

Stage III is locally advanced cancer. It is divided into Stage IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.

  • Stage IIIA: is one of the following:

     

    • The tumor is no more than 5 centimeters (2 inches) across. The cancer has spread to underarm lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures. Or the cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone.

       

    • The tumor is more than 5 centimeters across. The cancer has spread to underarm lymph nodes that are either alone or attached to each other or to other structures. Or the cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone.

       

  • Stage IIIB: is a tumor of any size that has grown into the chest wall or the skin of the breast. It may be associated with swelling of the breast or with nodules (lumps) in the breast skin:

     

    • The cancer may have spread to lymph nodes under the arm.

       

    • The cancer may have spread to underarm lymph nodes that are attached to each other or other structures. Or the cancer may have spread to lymph nodes behind the breastbone.

       

    • Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer. The breast looks red and swollen because cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. When a doctor diagnoses inflammatory breast cancer, it is at least Stage IIIB, but it could be more advanced.

       

  • Stage IIIC: is a tumor of any size. It has spread in one of the following ways:

     

    • The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes behind the breastbone and under the arm.

       

    • The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes above or below the collarbone.

Stage IV is distant metastatic cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or liver.

 

Treatment of Breast Cancer:

 

Women with breast cancer have many treatment options. The best treatment method for one woman may not be the best for other women. Treatment options include: surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Some women may receive more than one type of treatment, or treatment combinations. The treatment options are described below:

  • Surgery and radiation therapy are types of local therapy. They remove or destroy cancer in the breast.
  • Hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy are types of systemic therapy. The drug enters the bloodstream and destroys or controls cancer throughout the body.

The right treatment for a patient depends mainly on the stage of the cancer, the results of the hormone receptor tests, the result of the HER2/neu test, and your general health. You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. Clinical trials are an important option for women at any stage of breast cancer.

Search for clinical trials in Georgia.

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/breast. (Accessed July 2016)