Mammograms are routinely prescribed by women’s physicians as a means of early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. Doctors are persistent in this recommendation because breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women after lung cancer. With early diagnosis and treatment, 97% of women with localized breast cancer are alive 5 years later.
Once breast cancer has been found, further tests will be determining the extent of the cancer, a process known as staging. Understanding the extent of the cancer helps in the formation of an effective treatment plan. The following stages are used for breast cancer:
Stage 0 is used to describe early cancers, which make up15-20% of all breast cancers. These early cancers are referred to as ‘carcinoma in situ’ or ‘cancer in place’. Occasionally an abnormality or lump seen on a mammogram is biopsied. With carcinoma in situ, a woman has a 25% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 25 years.
Stage 1 is characterized by a localized cancer, no bigger than 2 centimeters or 1", and involves only breast tissue.
Stage II has several different set of criteria.
Stage III is divided into several categories, with all involving cancer >5 centimeters, but varying by the involvement of nodes, skin, chest wall, and/or bones.
Stage IV is the most critical, being the stage of cancer where extensive metastasis or spreading has occurred to involve vital organs - lungs, liver, bones and/or brain.
Treatments and Therapies
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Some tumors can be inhibited by hormones. To determine if a particular tumor is sensitive to hormone exposure, a biopsy is performed, and a hormone receptor test is conducted. This receptor test also helps determine the probability of a tumor return. Physicians often use HRT in combination with other cancer therapies.
Surgery of varying types is performed to remove cancerous cells. It may be a radical surgery where extensive tissue, (the entire breasts) and/or lymph nodes, are involved; or something more conservative, such as a lumpectomy, removing only the suspect tissue.
Radiation therapy applies specialized x-rays to cancer cells and is less devastating now that ways to target the radiation are being used. Radiation is used with other treatments when, for example, surgery would carry too much risk for the loss of critical tissue.
Chemotherapy, a standard, uses ever-more targeted drugs to kill cancer cells. The newest drugs are tailored to specific cancer cell characteristics both internal and external.
Two of the newer techniques, biological therapy, a more holistic approach to use the individual’s own immune system, and bone marrow transplants, designed to protect the spread of cancer to the bone, are also being tested. While new treatments are showing success at treating and inhibiting cancers, the best recommendation from the medical community is for prevention.
Dr. Logan Pallas is a medical researcher, cancer expert and writer. For more information about effective breast cancer treatments visit Dr. Pallas’ Cancer Breakthroughs website where he covers every aspect of an effective treatment in great detail.