What Is Breast Cancer?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Here at Genesis Health Care, we recognize this important effort to increase awareness about breast cancer prevention and treatment. Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. (To learn more about how cancers start and spread, see What Is Cancer?)

Breast cancer cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer too.

It’s important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not cancer (malignant). Non-cancerous breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life-threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care professional to determine if it is benign or malignant (cancer) and if it might affect your future cancer risk. See Non-cancerous Breast Conditions to learn more.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in South Carolina. It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the state.
Throughout the U.S., about 40,000 women die each year from breast cancer according to the CDC. Nationally, breast cancer is…
• The most common cancer in women, no matter their race or ethnicity.
• The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
• The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

Why is it important to catch breast cancer as early as possible?
• Women with breast cancer diagnosed at the earliest stage (Stage 1), before the cancer has had time to spread to lymph nodes or other locations outside the breast, have a 99% chance of surviving at least 5 years.
• Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer after the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes (Stages 2 and 3), have an 84% chance of surviving at least 5 years.
• Once breast cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes or organs throughout the body (Stage 4), the 5-year survival rate falls to 23%.

Are survival rates improving?
Thanks in part to breast cancer screening/early detection, long-term survival rates for breast cancer have improved dramatically over the last several decades.
• In the 1960s, 63 out of 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer were still living 5 years following their diagnosis of breast cancer.
• Today, 90 out of 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer are still living 5 years following diagnosis.
• In addition, today 82 out of 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer are living at least 10 years following diagnosis, and 77 out of 100 are living at least 15 years.

According to Cancer.org, it is recommended that women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms. Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. To learn more about breast cancer prevention, schedule an appointment at a Genesis Health Care location near you.