Breast Cancer FAQs by Jessica Hodges
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Since the program began in 1985, mammography rates have more than doubled for women age 50 and older and breast cancer deaths have declined.
This is exciting progress, but there are still women who do not take advantage of early detection at all, and others who do not get screening mammograms and clinical breast exams at regular intervals.
- Women age 65 and older are less likely to get mammograms than younger women, even though breast cancer risk increases with age.
- Hispanic women have fewer mammograms than Caucasian women and African American women.
- Women below poverty level are less likely than women at higher incomes to have had a mammogram within the past two years.
- Mammography use has increased for all groups except American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The key to raising awareness is educating the public to the disease, preventative measures and risk factors. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about breast cancer according to the NBCAM organization.
Q: What is cancer?
A: Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order. Each organ in the body is made up of various kinds of cells. Cells normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. This process helps keep the body healthy. If cells divide when new cells are not needed, they form too much tissue. This extra tissue, called a tumor, can be benign or malignant.
Benign tumors are not cancer. Eighty percent of all breast tumors are benign. They can usually be removed, and, in most cases, they don’t come back. Most important, the cells in benign tumors do not invade other tissues and do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign breast tumors are not life-threatening.
Malignant tumors are cancer. The cancer cells grow and divide out of control, invading and damaging nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how breast cancer spreads and forms secondary tumors in other parts of the body. This spread of cancer is called metastasis.
Q: What is breast cancer?
A: Breast cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.
Q: How many new cases of breast cancer are estimated in the United States in 2007?
A: New cases of breast cancer in the United States are estimated to be 178,480 (female); 2,030 (male). Of these an estimated 40,460 (female) and 450 (male) will die from the disease. (National Cancer Institute figures).
Q: How common is breast cancer in the United States?
A: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, aside from skin cancer.
Q: What is advanced breast cancer?
A: Breast cancer is considered advanced when it has spread from its original site to distant areas of the body. Physicians will look at a number of factors to determine the stage of breast cancer, including tumor size, lymph node involvement, and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Once the stage of the disease is determined, there are two different ways advanced breast cancer can be classified: locally advanced or metastatic.
For more information about NBCAM, please visit www.nbcam.org. For additional information, please call one of the following toll-free numbers: American Cancer Society, (800) 227-2345, National Cancer Institute (NCI), (800) 4-CANCER, Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization, (800) 221-2141.
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month program is dedicated to increasing public knowledge about the importance of early breast cancer detection. Fifteen national public service organizations, professional associations, and government agencies comprise the Board of Sponsors, who work together to ensure that the NBCAM message is heard by thousands of women and their families.
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