What Everyone Should Know About Breast Cancer, and the Susan G. Koman Organization

What Everyone Should Know About Breast Cancer, and the Susan G. Koman Organization

By Adrienne Papp

At Youthful and Ageless we’re very aware and supportive of the most recent developments in cancer research. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – that’s the reason for all the pink you’re seeing – we thought we’d share some of the information provided by the Susan G. Koman organization, which was so instrumental in bringing breast cancer awareness to a national audience.

What Everyone Should Know

In a healthy body, natural systems control the creation, growth and death of cells. But when these systems malfunction, more cell growth than death can occur. The result is a mass of tissue we call a malignant tumor—or cancer. And when this process takes place in the breast, it’s breast cancer. Tumors in the breast tend to grow slowly; by the time a lump is large enough to feel, it may have been growing for as long as 10 years. Some tumors, however, are aggressive and grow much faster.

Did you know?

50 to 75% of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts. 10 to 15% begin in the lobules. A few begin in other breast tissues.

Non-invasive Breast Cancer

Non-invasive breast cancer (also known as ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS) occurs when abnormal cells grow inside the milk ducts but have not spread to nearby tissue or beyond. This may also be referred to as “pre-invasive breast carcinoma.” Although the abnormal cells have not spread to tissues outside the ducts, they can develop into invasive breast cancer.

Invasive Breast Cancer

Invasive breast cancer is when abnormal cells break out of the milk ducts or lobules and move into nearby breast tissue. Cancer cells can travel from the breast to other parts of the body through the blood stream or the lymphatic system. And they may travel early in the process when the tumor is small or later when the tumor is large.

The lymph nodes in the underarm area (the axillary lymph nodes) are the first place that breast cancer is likely to spread. In advanced stages, breast cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body like the liver, lungs, bones and brain (in a process called metastasis). There, the breast cancer cells may again begin to divide too quickly and form new tumors

Diagnosing and Treating Breast Cancer

Differences in breast cancer type, tumor, stage, and other factors affect treatment and prognosis. Because of this, it’s important to understand the details of your diagnosis before choosing a treatment path.

To learn how breast cancer is diagnosed and what you can expect to learn from diagnostic reports read the following section.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is often first suspected when a lump or a change in the breast is found. Or perhaps, an abnormal area was seen on your mammogram. Most of the time, these findings don’t turn out to be cancer. But the only way to know for sure is through follow-up tests. This section describes those tests and how they affect your diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.

Diagnostic Tests & Reports

For most women, a mammogram or clinical breast exam will not show signs of breast cancer. But if yours reveals something abnormal, you’ll need a follow-up test to determine exactly what it is.

Waiting for Results

There’s a reason people say waiting is the hardest part. It can be maddening, especially when you’re waiting for test results. But stay calm—most biopsies in the U.S. don’t show cancer

Understanding a Diagnosis

So your doctor said the words “You have breast cancer” and suddenly, everything stopped. He or she probably kept talking, but chances are you couldn’t digest it at the time or didn’t fully understand everything that was said. To really comprehend your diagnosis and treatment options, you have to understand the many factors that are taken into account, such as tumor type, lymph node status and stage.


Tumor Types, Sizes & Grades

Although breast cancer is often referred to as one disease, there are actually many different types of breast cancer. All breast cancers start in the breast, so they are alike in some ways, but differ in others. They can be non-invasive or invasive. And, the tumor cells can vary in location (ducts or lobules) and how they look under a microscope. These differences often affect prognosis.

Lymph Node Status

Lymph nodes are small clumps of immune cells that act as filters for the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system runs throughout the body (like the circulatory blood system) and carries fluid and cells. The lymph nodes in the underarm (the axillary lymph nodes) are the first place breast cancer is likely to spread.

Breast Cancer Stages

Breast cancer stage helps plan your treatment and is the most important factor for prognosis. In general, the earlier the stage, the better the prognosis will be.

Breast Cancer Subtypes

Researchers are studying how molecular subtypes of breast cancer may be useful in planning treatment and developing new therapies. Most studies divide breast cancer into four major molecular subtypes:

Luminal A

Luminal B

Triple negative/basal-like

HER2 type

These same subtypes also appear in ductal carcinoma. Other less common molecular subtypes have also been described including normal breast-like, apocrine molecular type and claudin-low type. Breast cancers that do not fall into any of these subtypes are often listed as unclassified.

At this time, molecular subtypes are used mostly in research settings and are not included in pathology reports (learn more). Prognosis and treatment decisions are still guided by tumor stage, and tumor characteristics like hormone receptor status and HER2/neu status.

The complex profile of each subtype is determined using molecular and genetic information from tumor cells. However, some characteristics (including hormone receptor status, HER2/neu status and proliferation rate) can be used to roughly define the four major subtypes. Much of what is known about the four subtypes is related to these characteristics that are already well understood.

– See more at: http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/SubtypesofBreastCancer.html#sthash.jpKF91Np.dpuf

Treating Breast Cancer

Over the past 20 years, progress in treatment and early detection has led to improved survival for people of all ages, races, and stages of breast cancer. Between 1990 and 2010, breast cancer mortality declined by 34 percent among women in the U.S. [1]. And today, there are more than three million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., more than any other group of cancer survivors.

The goal of treating early breast cancer is to get rid of the cancer and keep it from coming back. Treatment for early breast cancer includes some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy. These treatments are designed to remove the cancer from the breast and destroy any cancer that might still be in the body.

Your Breast Cancer Treatment Plan

Your breast cancer treatment plan is based on both medical and personal choices. It is tailored to:

Your specific breast cancer (the biology of the tumor)

The stage of the breast cancer

Other medical issues

Your personal preferences

Because of the differences between tumors and between people, your treatment plan may differ from another person’s, even though you both have breast cancer. This is called personalized care and each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle. That said, treatment for breast cancer can be thought of in two areas: local therapy and systemic therapy.

Local Therapy

Local therapy removes the cancer from a limited (local) area, such as the breast, chest wall or lymph nodes in the underarm area. It also helps to ensure the cancer does not come back to that area. Surgery and radiation therapy are local therapies.

Systemic Therapy (adjuvant therapy)

Systemic therapy aims to get rid of cancer cells that may have spread from the breast to other parts of the body. It uses drug therapies (either in IV or pill form) that travel throughout the body to get rid of cancer cells. Systemic therapy includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy. Because systemic therapy is in addition to (an adjunct to) breast surgery, these treatments are often called adjuvant therapy.

Neoadjuvant therapy

In select cases, treatment with chemotherapy, targeted therapy or hormone therapy may be given before breast surgery. This it is called neoadjuvant therapy and while it does not increase survival, it changes the timing of treatment and can change surgical options. For instance, it can shrink a tumor enough so that lumpectomy plus radiation therapy becomes an option to mastectomy.

How Age Affects Your Treatment Plan

No matter your age, your treatment plan depends on many factors, such as the stage of the breast cancer and the characteristics of the tumor. Your overall health and other health conditions you may have also play a role. For example, if you have heart disease, some medications used to treat breast cancer can do more harm than good. All of these things are considered when developing a treatment plan that is right for you.

Young women with breast cancer may have special concerns about early menopause and loss of fertility due to treatment.


Your Health Care Team

Throughout your treatment and beyond, you will receive care from many health care providers. Your health care team may include:

Physicians (oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, radiologists and pathologists)



Social workers

Physical therapists

Palliative care or pain specialists

Patient navigators


Other providers

These professionals may be involved in your care during diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

– See more at: http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/TreatmentIntroduction.html#sthash.bBwKBXEO.dpuf

About the Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer.

In 1980, Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became the Susan G. Komen® organization and the beginning of a global movement. What was started with $200 and a shoebox full of potential donor names has now grown into the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer. To date, we’ve invested more than $2.5 billion in groundbreaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 30 countries. And we won’t stop until our promise is fulfilled.

Content provided by Susan G. Komen organization. For more information: http://ww5.komen.org/