What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the United States, after lung cancer.  The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 190,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer annually in the United States.

What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

The most common signs of breast cancer are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge. Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast) or feel like a change, should be checked.

Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Skin changes, such as swelling, redness or other visible differences in one or both breasts,
  • General pain in any part of the breast,
  • Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples.

What are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?

Women over 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Only about 10-15% of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45.

Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly women with a mother, sister or daughter who has had breast cancer, may double the risk.  Some inherited genetic mutations may increase your risk of breast cancer. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common inherited causes of breast cancer.

What is the Prognosis for Breast Cancer?

Predictors of overall survival include tumor size, grade and stage of the breast cancer. Your doctor's prediction of how well your treatment will work depends on the tumor size and whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, tissues near the breast.  The American Cancer Society publishes statistics for the 5-year survival rate for every stage of breast cancer.

In stage 0 breast cancer, there is no evidence of cancer cells in the breast in which they started or in the neighboring tissue. In stage 1 breast cancer, the tumor measures up to 2 centimeters and no lymph nodes are involved. The 5-year survival rate for Stages 0 and 1 is close to 100%.

In stage II (invasive) breast cancer, the tumor measures between 2 and 5 centimeters, or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arms on the same side as the breast cancer. The 5-year survival rate for Stage II is 93%.

In stage III (locally advanced) breast cancer, the tumor in the breast is greater than 2 inches in diameter across and the cancer is extensive in the under-arm lymph nodes, or has spread to other lymph nodes or tissues near the breast.  The 5-year survival rate for Stage III is 72%.

In stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer, the cancer has spread beyond the breast, underarm and internal mammary lymph nodes to other parts of the body near to or distant from the breast. The 5-year survival rate for Stage IV is 22%.

If the cancer is located only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate is 99%. If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 85%. Overall, the average 5-year survival rate with breast cancer is 89%.

What is Recurrent Breast Cancer?

The cancer may come back in the same place as the original cancer (local recurrence) or it may spread to other areas of the body (distant recurrence). 

In recurrent breast cancer, the disease has returned in spite of the initial treatment. The most lymph nodes with cancer at the time of mastectomy, the higher the chances of breast cancer recurrence. Breast cancer that returns locally (i.e., in the area treated with surgery) is called a local recurrence. If you've undergone mastectomy, the cancer may recur in the tissue that lines the chest wall or in the skin. Local recurrence after a mastectomy is usually treated with surgery followed by radiation therapy (if radiation therapy was not part of initial treatment).

If the disease appears in another part of the body, it is referred to as metastatic breast cancer or regional recurrence. Common metastatic areas include the bones, liver and lungs.

What is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?

Your pathology report may state that the breast cancer cells tested negative for estrogen receptors (ER-), progesterone receptors (PR-) and HER2. Testing negative for all 3 means that the cancer is triple-negative. Triple-negative breast cancer can be more aggressive and difficult to treat. Also, the cancer is more likely to spread and recur.  About 15-20% of breast cancers are triple-negative.  

Triple-negative breast cancer is typically treated with a combination of therapies, such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Doctors use the same tests and surgeries to determine treatments for triple-negative breast cancer as they do for other kinds of breast cancer.

Have Questions About Breast Cancer?

If you have questions about breast cancer, we will be happy to answer your questions. You can call us at 845-802-0047.