What Will the Doctor Do?
Sometimes a doctor will discover a lump in a woman's breast during a routine examination or a patient might come to the doctor with questions about a lump she found. In other cases, a mammogram (say: ma-muh-gram) may find a lump in the breast that can't be felt. A mammogram is a special kind of X-ray of the breast that helps doctors see what's going on inside. Sometimes, other kinds of pictures, like an MRI, can also be taken.
When a lump is found, the doctor will want to test it. The best way to do this is usually with a biopsy. In a biopsy, a small amount of breast tissue is removed with a needle or during a small operation. Then, the tissue is examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
The biopsy maybe benign (say: bih-nine), which means the lump is not cancer. If the biopsy shows cancer cells, the lump is malignant (say: muh-lig-nunt). If a breast lump does contains cancer cells, the woman, along with her doctor and family, will decide what to do next.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Treatment for breast cancer usually depends on the type of cancer and whether the cancer has spread outside of the breast to the rest of the body.
Here are some common treatments:
Lumpectomy (say: lum-pek-tuh-mee), which removes the cancerous tumor from the breast. A woman usually has this surgery when the cancer is found early and when the lump is small and in only one part of the breast. mastectomy (say: ma-stek-tuh-mee), which removes the whole breast. This surgery is done when cancer cells have spread through the breast or into other parts of the body. It is a good way to remove all or most of the cancer, and it can help prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back. Sometimes, a woman who has a mastectomy may choose to have an operation to reconstruct (rebuild) the breast, so her shape will be more like it was before radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which are often used after lumpectomy or mastectomy to make sure that all the cancer cells are destroyed and do not grow back. Radiation therapy (say: ray-dee-a-shun ther-uh-pee) uses high-energy X-rays to kill the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy (say: kee-mo-ther-uh-pee) is special medicine that travels throughout the entire body and kills cancer cells.
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Living With Breast Cancer
Dealing with breast cancer can be very hard for a woman and her family. A woman who has breast cancer surgery or treatment may not feel well for a while. She may be depressed if she had her breast removed. If a woman needs chemotherapy, she may lose her hair and she may feel sick to her stomach. She also may worry that the cancer will return and she'll get sick again.
The good news is that many times, especially if a lump is caught early, women with breast cancer go on to live full, healthy lives after treatment. Some women join support groups so they can talk to other women with breast cancer who are feeling the same emotions.
There are even groups that kids or other family members can join to talk about their feelings when someone they love has breast cancer. Find a trusted adult to talk with if you're worried about a loved one.
Breast Cancer Prevention
Doctors and scientists are working on finding cures for all types of breast cancer. They are researching new medicines that may even help prevent the disease. But in the meantime, it's important for women to catch the disease early.
Regular mammograms - together with monthly breast self-exams - are the best ways for women to protect themselves. You may want to ask the women you care about if they are taking these important steps to stay healthy.