of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer, with more than 232,000 individuals diagnosed in the United States each year.1 The disease occurs most frequently in women, but can also occur in men.
The normal breast has 6 to 9 overlapping sections called lobes and within each lobe are several smaller lobules that contain the cells that produce milk. The lobes and lobules are linked by thin tubes called ducts, which lead to the nipple in the center of the breast. The spaces around the lobules and ducts are filled with fat. Lymph vessels carry colorless fluid called lymph, which contains important immune cells. The lymph vessels lead to small bean-shaped structures called lymph nodes. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the axilla (under the arm), above the collarbone, and in the chest.
A breast cancer begins when healthy cells in the breast change and grow out of control. Most breast cancers start in the ducts or lobes and are called ductal carcinoma or lobular carcinoma. Although breast cancer most commonly spreads to nearby lymph nodes, it can also spread further through the body to areas such as the bones, lungs, liver, and brain. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body or when breast cancer cells move to other parts of the body through the blood vessels and/or lymph vessels. This is called metastasis.
As a result of advocacy and advances in scientific knowledge our understanding of breast cancer continues to evolve. In recent years we have witnessed a steady improvement in the early detection of breast cancer, the prevention of breast cancer in high-risk individuals through genetic testing, and improved outcomes of individuals with both early and advanced stage disease. There is indeed much to be optimistic about.1,2
1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012.