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Understanding Breast Cancer

The breast is an organ of the body designed to produce milk. The breast contains glands called lobules which produce breast milk. There are also tubes or channels called ducts which transport the milk from the glands to the nipple. The majority of breast cancers begins in either the ducts or the lobules. Cancer names are based on their site of origin (i.e., ductal carcinoma of the breast or lobular carcinoma of the breast). The lobules and ducts are supported in the breast by surrounding fatty tissue and ligaments.

There are also blood vessels and lymphatics present in the breast. Lymphatics are small thin channels similar to blood vessels. They do not carry blood, but collect and carry tissue fluid. This fluid ultimately re-enters the blood stream. Breast tissue fluid drains through the lymphatics into the axil lymph nodes, located in the underarm. Lymph nodes are small glands through which lymphatic channels enter. They filter the lymph fluid and can serve as a barrier to the further spread of bacteria or cancer cells that may have entered the lymph fluid. If lymph nodes are not completely effective in filtering out cancer cells,  the cells may spread to other parts of the body . Once cancer cells have gained access to either the lymph channels or the blood stream, they have the potential to spread to any area of the body. In breast cancer, these areas are typically the bone, the lungs, the liver and the brain.

Breast cancer is also categorized as invasive (infiltrating) or non-invasive (in-situ). Invasiveness, as it relates to cancer, refers to the cancer's ability to spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). If a cancer is invasive, it has the capability of growing directly into other parts of the body, or traveling in the blood or lymph fluid to these areas. Non-invasive cancers (in situ cancers) are those cancers which are defined by microscopic criteria as lacking the ability to spread to other parts of the body.

 Breast Cancer Statistics

According to the American Cancer Society

  • Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women.

  • It is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.

  • In 2004, an estimated 215,990 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed among women.

  • In 2004, an estimated 40,580 women  died of this disease.

  • Seventy-five percent of all diagnosed cases of breast cancer are among women aged 50 years or older.



Who's at Risk

Methods of Detection.   

   Signs and Symptoms      




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