Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. The human breast is made up of mostly adipose (fat cells), but also has a complex system of glands and ducts. These systems are for milk production and lactation, but both men and women have them. Most breast cancers are a result of mutations in these ductal or glandular cells, causing the cells to grow out of control and form a tumor. Tumors can be so small they cannot be felt but can often still be detected on mammograms or other radiology tests.
Medical evaluation and diagnosis
It can be overwhelming to learn you have breast cancer. You will likely hear a vast amount of information while still having questions unanswered. It can be helpful to include a trusted friend or loved one in discussions with your health care team, both for moral support and to add another perspective to information learned and treatment decisions to be made.
Breast cancer is diagnosed with a biopsy, which can be done with a needle under the guidance of ultrasound. The biopsy obtains tissue for pathologists to examine and provide details for you and your care team to plan a treatment.
Breast cancer treatment options
Your treatment team will consider information from your biopsy, physical exam, health history, imaging studies such as mammogram, ultrasound or MRI and sometimes genetic testing to recommend a treatment plan for you. Types of treatment of breast cancer include surgery, radiation, endocrine treatment (medications that work on hormone receptors) and chemotherapy.
Breast cancer and gynecologic cancers
Some women with breast cancer may be at risk for developing other cancers, including ovarian cancer, especially if they carry a mutation of the BRCA gene. Most women with breast cancer do not have this gene mutation. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or someone in your family has breast or ovarian cancer, you should talk with your doctor about your family history and determine if genetic testing is right for you.
Living with Cancer Therapy
Regardless of the treatment prescribed, you are likely to experience fatigue, frequent medical appointments and times when you do not feel well.
Survivorship is about living, and is something you and your care team should be thinking about from the time you are diagnosed.