Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and
its occurrence is steadily increasing. Each year more
than 250,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in
Europe and approximately 175,000 in the United States,
with a death rate of over 165,000 patients in Europe and
44,000 in the United States. Worldwide more than 700,000
women die of breast cancer annually and it is estimated
that eight to nine percent of women will develop breast
cancer in their lifetime.
If detected early
enough, before spreading outside the breast women with
breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of more
than 95 percent. Yet despite advances in diagnosis and
treatment, breast cancer is the primary cause of
cancer-related deaths in women and the third-leading
cause overall in Europe and the United States. After
primary treatment approximately 50 percent of patients
will develop metastatic (advanced) breast cancer (MBC).
From the initial diagnosis of MBC, the average survival
time for these patients is 18 to 30 months.
Detecting Breast Cancer
Lumps, or changes
in the breast tissue, can be detected with regular
breast self-examination. Your doctor will be able to
provide advice on how to do this. Most lumps in the
breast are benign (non-cancerous) and can be removed
with no effect. However, at least one in 10 lumps will
be cancerous. If you do detect a lump, please see your
doctor as soon as possible.
In order to determine
the exact nature of the lump, your health practitioner
may perform one or some of the following procedures:
- Mammogram - this is a breast x-ray.
- Ultrasound scan - this uses high-frequency sound
waves to produce an image of the breast.
- Biopsy - where a small sample is removed and
examined under the microscope to see if there are any
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - in some centres
a MRI scan may be available. This scan, which doesn't
use radiation, gives a three-dimensional image of the
breast and may be more sensitive than a mammogram at
detecting certain abnormalities of soft tissue.
- If breast cancer is found, more tests will be done
to find out if the cancer has spread to other parts of
the body (metastasised).
In the past,
breast cancer has been treated in many different ways,
including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and hormone
therapy. These treatments are given with the goals of
curing the cancer and/or limiting its spread, and
providing relief from symptoms.
New Treatment Options
radiation have long been the main weapons for patients
and physicians in their fight against cancer, but can
adversely affect the rest of the body. Now new therapies
with innovative mechanisms of action are available.
These drugs deliver their cancer-fighting agents
directly to the cancerous cells. They may offer
significant advances to patients as they spare the rest
of the body from the sometimes devastating side effects
associated with standard cancer treatments.