Healthy Hints October 2020
Breast Cancer Screening & Diagnosis
Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women in the United States. Breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells may spread (metastasize) through your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body. Breast cancer most often begins with cells in the milk-producing ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma). Breast cancer may also begin in the glandular tissue called lobules (invasive lobular carcinoma) or in other cells or tissue within the breast. Breast cancer screening is important in detecting cancer in its earliest stages when treatment can be more effective. REMEMBER: Breast cancer can also occur in men.
Become familiar with how your breast normally feel so you can alert your doctor to any changes and get them checked out if they don’t resolve within a few weeks.
- A new or unusual breast pain
- A new or changing lump on the breast or under the arm
- Skin changes such as dimpling or retraction on the breast surface or changes in skin texture (for example peeling, rash, crusting or flaking)
- Swelling, firmness, redness, soreness or warmth in the breast
- Nipples changes such as a discharge or new retraction of the nipple into the breast
Annual mammogram or 3D mammogram screenings begin at age 40…. individualized changes can be made based on a discussion with your doctors.
How does breast cancer spread?
Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and are carried to other parts of the body. The lymph system is a network of lymph (or lymphatic) vessels found throughout the body that connects lymph nodes (small bean-shaped collections of immune system cells). The clear fluid inside the lymph vessels, called lymph, contains tissue by-products and waste material, as well as immune system cells. The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid away from the breast. In the case of breast cancer, cancer cells can enter those lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes.
Most of the lymph vessels of the breast drain into:
- Lymph nodes under the arm (axillary nodes)
- Lymph nodes around the collar bone (supraclavicular above the collar bone] and infraclavicular [below the collar bone] lymph nodes
- Lymph nodes inside the chest near the breast bone (internal mammary lymph nodes)
If cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that the cells could have traveled through the lymph system and spread (metastasized) to other parts of your body. The more lymph nodes with breast cancer cells, the more likely it is that the cancer may be found in other organs. Because of this, finding cancer in one or more lymph nodes often affects your treatment plan. Usually, you will need surgery to remove one or more lymph nodes to know whether the cancer has spread. Not all women with cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases, and some women with no cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases later.
Reducing your risk of cancer:
- Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening.Discuss with your doctor when to begin breast cancer screening exams and mammograms.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day, if you choose to drink.
- Exercise most days of the week.Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. If you haven’t been active lately, ask your doctor whether it’s OK and start slowly.
- Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy.Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone therapy.
- Maintain a healthy weight.If your weight is healthy, work to maintain that weight. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy strategies to accomplish this. Reduce the number of calories you eat each day and slowly increase the amount of exercise.
(Source: Mayo Clinic & American Cancer Society)