(BlackDoctor.org) — October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while breast cancer deserves our attention year-round, a national month of recognition serves to remind all Americans that breast cancer is a disease that impacts women (and men) of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, as well as among African American women. And although breast cancer is the most common cancer, it remains the second leading cause of cancer-related death among women behind cancer of the lungs.
Very disturbing disparities exist between African American women and white women when it comes to breast cancer screening, diagnosis and survival, and these will be outlined below.
What Is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a malignant growth or tumor that frequently begins to manifest in the milk ducts or lobules of either breast.
Breast cancer can be divided into two groups: invasive and non-invasive cancers. Non-invasive breast cancers are also called “carcinoma in situ” and are generally confined to the duct areas without affecting surrounding tissue. Non-invasive breast cancers can be subcategorized as “ductal carcinoma in situ” (DCIS) and “lobular carcinoma in situ” (LCIS). LCIS is actually not considered a cancer, per se. Rather, it is seen as a warning sign that can potentially lead to invasive cancer when undetected.
Invasive breast cancers may develop in the lobules or ducts but then spread into surrounding breast tissue, and can often further metastasize to the lungs, brain, liver, bones, and other major organs. Approximately 80% of invasive breast cancers fall into the category of invasive ductal carcinoma.
Stages of Breast Cancer
• Stage 0. breast cancer is known as carcinoma in situ, the most common being DCIS, as described above.
• Stage 1. Breast cancer signifies early invasive cancer in which the tumor has not spread beyond the breast tissue and is no more than ¾ of an inch in diameter.
• Stage 2. Breast cancer involves a tumor between ¾ of an inch and 2 inches in diameter with some involvement of the local lymph nodes under the arm.
• Stage 3. Breast cancer can involve a combination of various factors, including larger tumor mass, involvement of lymph nodes behind the breast bone, tumor spread into the chest wall or skin of the breast, or under or above the collar bone. Stage 3 also may manifest as inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer wherein the breast becomes red and swollen due to the blockage of lymph vessels in the breast tissue and skin.
• Stage 4. Breast cancer involves the spreading of the disease to other parts of the body and distant organs, a process often referred to as metastasis.
Breast self-exam (BSE) is an important part of self-screening for women of all ages, although studies show that the percentage of women who practice regular monthly BSE is relatively low.
Mammograms are a very crucial aspect of breast cancer screening, and is still considered the best method of early detection. Starting at the age of 35, annual mammograms are recommended for all women, as well as an annual clinical breast exam by a qualified medical professional.
MRIs of the breast are also utilized for special magnification views, yet mammograms remain the gold standard for early detection.