Breast Cancer 101
The Breastlink Beginner’s Guide to Breast Cancer
An initial diagnosis of breast cancer is a daunting, emotional experience that can create confusion, uncertainty and a loss of control. As a leader in breast health for more than 25 years our physicians, support staff and care team are here to help you regain some control over your life by providing you all the answers you need to make educated, fully informed decisions about your care and treatment.
Our model is to provide comprehensive care to each patient individually. This means that we fully investigate each patient’s cancer using the latest diagnostic and genomic tools available. This allows for optimal treatment planning with the least amount toxicity and side effects for the future.
Our physicians meet to discuss each woman’s treatment plan including eligibility for innovative research protocols. We know that every woman is unique and so, we believe in tailoring the most current, appropriate treatment to each woman’s situation.
Our experience has taught us the process of understanding a patient’s diagnosis and that treatment options must be individualized. This is why we have a clearly defined process that emphasizes a comprehensive, collaborative effort with full patient participation. We answer all of your questions the first day you walk through our doors. Our doctors and care team will provide a treatment plan, specifically tailored for you, before you leave one of our centers.
What is Breast Cancer?
Every human body is composed of trillions of living cells. Each cell contains genetic material, or DNA, which directs that cell to behave in predictable ways. Healthy cells are pre-programmed by DNA to:
- Replicate, or reproduce, at specified times.
- Cease replicating at specified times.
- Occupy only particular parts of the body.
- Die at a specified time.
Cancer is born when DNA is replicated with an error. Errors to DNA occur somewhat frequently in cells, but cells are often able to self-repair or self-destruct in response to errors. Sometimes, DNA with errors is inherited. However, in most instances, the cause of these errors cannot be identified. Cancer occurs when cells with errors continue to replicate within the body. Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells:
- Replicate uncontrollably.
- Invade parts of the body where they don’t belong.
- Don’t die when they are supposed to.
Most breast cancers begin in the cells lining ducts, which deliver milk to the nipple from lobules, or milk-producing glands. Some of these cancers are slow-growing and can exist within ducts for years before invading other parts of the body, although their rate of growth depends on many factors. The process of cancer spreading through the body is called metastasis. Cancers detected early, before metastasis occurs, are generally more easily treated.
Breast Cancer 101 – by the Numbers (US)
- Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in women.
- Breast cancer is the most common cause of death among Hispanic women.
- 281,550 – the number of women estimated to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021.
- 43,600– the number of women who will die from breast cancer in 2021.
- 50 percent – the reduction in breast cancer death rates amongst patients diagnosed with breast cancer.
- More than 3.8 million– breast cancer survivors in America.
Breast Cancer 101 – by the Numbers (Global)
- Female breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide in 2020
- 685,000– the number of women who died due to breast cancer in 2020. Breast cancer is now the most common cause of cancer death among women worldwide.
- 2.3 million – the number of breast cancer diagnoses in 2020.
- 20 percent – the increase in breast cancer incidence across the world since 2008.
- 11.7 percent -- the percentage of breast cancer cases out of all cancer cases worldwide
- 1 in 4 cancer diagnoses in women are for breast cancer.
- 1 in 6 breast cancer deaths.
How is Breast Cancer Treated?
Every breast cancer is unique and behaves differently based on type, location, growth and health status. As such, breast cancer treatments should be tailored to the woman receiving them. Women may also want to consider highly personal factors, such as emotional well-being and spirituality, before making treatment decisions.
There are several types of treatments commonly used for breast cancer. These include:
Generally, some form of surgery is performed on most women with breast cancer. It is often required to remove a breast tumor. Any surgery is meant to remove the cancer from the breast. Surgical options include:
- Mastectomy – this is surgery that removes the entire breast.
- Breast-conserving surgery - sometimes called a partial mastectomy or a lumpectomy, attempts to remove only the tissue affected by cancer.
Radiation therapy is usually performed in women who have received mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery. During this treatment, radiation is directed toward areas of the body affected by cancer to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs designed to kill cancer cells. These drugs may be injected or taken orally. Chemotherapy can be administered before or after surgery to remove breast cancer. When administered after surgery, its purpose is to reduce risk of recurrence. When administered before surgery, its purpose is to shrink a breast cancer tumor to make surgery easier.