Breast cancer is newly diagnosed in about 180,000 women each year in the United States. Twelve percent of all women will be given a diagnosis of breast cancer in their lifetime and 3.5% will die of the disease. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among American women who are 40 to 55 years of age and it causes 18% of all cancer deaths in women. It should be realized that cancer is second to heart disease in total number of deaths in the United States each year. Heart disease causes 359,270 deaths in women every year. Total cancer deaths are 237,039 each year. Of all of the cancer deaths each year, breast cancer causes 46,000 deaths. In the majority of cases, the patient finds a palpable (capable of being felt by the fingers) mass and consults his or her primary care physician. Other valuable methods for detecting breast cancer include mammography and physician breast exam usually done every year with the physical exam. About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers that are not palpable are initially detected by mammography. .
Needle aspiration is a routine part of evaluating a palpable mass. It is a safe, simple and an inexpensive means of immediately distinguishing cysts from solid masses. If the mass is cystic and the fluid is nonbloody on aspiration, nothing else needs to be done other than a follow-up exam. If the mass is solid, it may need to be biopsied. The majority of biopsies are not cancer and nothing else needs to be done. If the mass does show cancer then the patient will be given several options. Presently, some cancers can be removed with a "lumpectomy" which preserves the majority of the breast tissue. Sometimes, it will be necessary to do a mastectomy. Many times the patient may choose to have a breast reconstruction. The surgeon will usually remove some lymph nodes under the arm which is helpful in deciding which additional treatment will be needed. Many times radiation therapy and chemotherapy will be recommended.