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Breast cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the breast. These cells can invade surrounding tissue and spread, or metastasize, to other areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs mostly in women but can occur in men. There are many types of breast cancer, but the most common initial symptom is the finding of a new lump or mass in the breast. Factors that put people at risk of developing breast cancer include being a woman, older age, gene mutations (e.g., BRCA1 and BRCA2), and a family history of breast cancer. Although many risk factors for breast cancer are known, the exact cause of how normal cells change to cancer cells is unknown.
Breast cancer is sometimes diagnosed based on a person’s symptoms, but it can often be found before any symptoms occur. This is why it is recommended that women undergo regular breast cancer screening. Mammograms are the recommended screening test for breast cancer. In addition to mammogram results, clinicians also use a person’s medical history and physical exam as well as other imaging tests, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If cancer is suspected, a tissue biopsy can confirm if the abnormality is cancerous.
Breast cancer treatment may be local or systemic. Localized therapy targets a specific area without affecting the rest of the body. Examples of local therapy include surgery and radiation therapy. Treatments that affect the entire body are considered systemic. Examples of systemic therapy used in breast cancer include chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Treatment choice depends on the type of cancer and the preferences of the patient.
Quality of life, or well being, is an important issue for patients with cancer, and it does not mean the same thing for every person. For example, a high quality of life for one person may mean that he or she spends every weekend with family. For another person, it may mean the ability to continue working.
Quality of life issues begin at the time of diagnosis. Being diagnosed with cancer is a great emotional burden, and there is a lot to think about and many decisions to be made. People diagnosed with cancer may be prone to depression or anxiety. The person then undergoes treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy, and must cope with pain or medication side effects. In addition, many treatments can interfere with people continuing on with their “normal” life, and sudden change can be difficult to accept.
When people are diagnosed with cancer it can often feel like things move very quickly. However, patients should keep in mind that they are not alone. More than 1.5 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2011, according to the National Cancer Institute. There are many resources, tools, and support groups that can help people with cancer improve their quality of life: