October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts from cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that may grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too.
What are the key statistics of breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman's life is a little less than 1 in 8 (12%).
The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2012:
After increasing for more than 2 decades, female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropping by about 7% from 2002 to 2003. This large decrease was thought to be due to the decline in use of hormone therapy after menopause that occurred after the results of the Women's Health Initiative were published in 2002. This study linked the use of hormone therapy to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart diseases. Incidence rates have been stable since 2004.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman's death is about 1 in 36 (about 3%). Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, like cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms. The goal of screening exams, such as mammograms, is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Breast cancers that are found because they can be felt tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread beyond the breast. In contrast, breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be small and still confined to the breast. The size of a breast cancer and how far it has spread are important factors in predicting the prognosis (outlook) for a woman with this disease.
Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save many thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests. Following the American Cancer Society's guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer improves the chances that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage and treated successfully.
What are the types of screening tests used to detect breast cancer?
Beginning in their 20s, women should be told about the benefits and limitations of breast self-exam (BSE). Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any new breast changes to a health professional as soon as they are found. Finding a breast change does not necessarily mean there is a cancer. A woman can notice changes by being aware of how her breasts normally look and feel and by feeling her breasts for changes (breast awareness), or by choosing to use a step-by-step approach (see below) and using a specific schedule to examine her breasts.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. A diagnostic mammogram is used to diagnose breast disease in women who have breast symptoms or an abnormal result on a screening mammogram. Screening mammograms are used to look for breast disease in women who are asymptomatic; that is, they appear to have no breast problems. Screening mammograms usually take 2 views (x-ray pictures taken from different angles) of each breast. For some patients, such as women with breast implants, more pictures may be needed to include as much breast tissue as possible. Women who are breast-feeding can still get mammograms, but these are probably not quite as accurate because the breast tissue tends to be dense.
For information on treatment options and additional details on breast cancer, please visit the American Cancer Society.
What we're doing at the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research
The goal of the Purdue University Breast Cancer Discovery Group is to foster a multidisciplinary approach for the design of strategies to prevent breast cancer, detect early stages of the disease, and provide new therapies for breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Discovery Group is committed to working across disciplines and collaborating with clinicians to develop translational studies.