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Breast Cancer

Symptoms and treatment of breast cancer

Breast cancer is the second most-common cancer in the United States at the moment. Over 211,000 women and 1,700 men learn that they have the disease every year. Although these statistics can be scary, they do mean that information on breast cancer and breast cancer awareness is readily available and constantly updated. It also means that there are a lot of resources being shifted to breast cancer research, information and treatment.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer manifests as a malignant tumor found in the breast or underarm area. The cancerous cells are mostly found in the lymph nodes near the breast. The cells can then spread to other parts of the body, including the liver, bones, lungs and brain.

Symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A thickening or lump in the breast or underarm area
  • A change in how the breast or nipple feels, or a nipple that turns inward to the breast
  • A change in the skin on the breast (red, scaly or swollen)
  • Nipple discharge

When a doctor suspects breast cancer, he or she will order a mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast, and perform a clinical breast exam. The doctor may also order an ultrasound that will determine the type of lump in your breast or even refer you to a surgeon for a biopsy.

A breast biopsy can take place in three different ways. A fine-needle aspiration removes fluid using a thin needle from a breast lump. The fluid is then analyzed by a pathologist for cancerous cells. A core biopsy uses a thick needle to remove breast tissue, which is also analyzed for cancerous cells. Lastly, a surgical biopsy takes breast tissue either from the incision or from the extricated lump itself in order to determine whether or not the patient has breast cancer.

Treatment

Treatment begins with knowing the stage of the cancer that you have. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy.

Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. It can involve either breast-sparing surgery, which allows the woman to keep her breast and only removes the cancerous tissue (the woman's breast is then given radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells) or a mastectomy, which means that the woman's breast is completely removed.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancerous cells in the body. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to perform the same function. Both treatments can be very hard on the body, and some effects include extreme nausea, diarrhea, loss of hair and weight loss.

Breast cancer is a huge womens health issue and is a very frightening diagnosis, but there are resources to help you. The National Cancer Center publishes an online booklet about breast cancer, with all you need to know about the disease. Your doctor can also help you if you have any other questions.

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