In breast cancer, some cells begin growing abnormally. The cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and may spread through the breast tissue to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasize). The most common type of breast cancer begins in the milk-producing ducts, but cancer may also occur in the lobules or in other breast tissue.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. In the United States, it is estimated that 12% of American women will develop the disease and 3.5% will die from it. The incidence of breast cancer varies with age being very low in the twenties, gradually increasing and reaching a plateau at the age of 45 and then increasing dramatically after fifty. Breast cancer is diagnosed in women over 65 years 50% of the time, indicating the ongoing necessity for women to have yearly screenings.
Although rare, breast cancer may also occur in men. In men, breast cancer can occur at any age, but is most common between the ages of 60 to 70 years. For every 100 cases of breast cancer, less than 1 is found in men.
Breast cancer is considered a heterogeneous disease, meaning that it is a different disease in different women, a different disease in different age groups and has different cell populations within the tumor itself. Generally, breast cancer is a much more aggressive disease in younger women.
There are many different varieties of breast cancer. Some cancer cells are fast growing while others are slow. Some cancer cells are stimulated by the estrogen in the body while others result from an out-of-control oncogene (cancer gene). Treatment is based on the special characteristics of the breast cancer.
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