Researchers are investigating genes that may be related to breast cancer and they are examining whether smoking or estrogen levels influence the incidence of the disease. Still no one knows what causes breast cancer. What is known is that early detection and treatment saves lives. There are more than 1.6 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today. The five-year survival rate following early diagnosis and treatment is 96 percent. .
For women age 40 or older, mammography is an essential part of a three-step program for detecting breast cancer. The other two steps, annual clinical examinations and monthly breast self-exams, are also important and are the primary detection tools for women under age 40.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts. It is the single best method for early detection of breast cancer while the disease is at its most curable stage. A mammogram takes just a few minutes and can detect breast cancer early, before it can be discovered through palpation. For that reason, the American Cancer Society and the Seattle Breast Center at Northwest Hospital recommend that every woman have a screening mammogram by the time she is 40 years old, followed by an annual mammogram after the age of 40. In mammography, images are taken of each breast. In order to get the most detailed image, while also diminishing the amount of direct x-ray exposure, the breast tissue must be compressed. This is accomplished by compressing each breast between two plastic plates for a few seconds.
There are five stages of breast cancer, with the highest stage reflecting the most serious prognosis. The five stages of breast cancer are:.
Stage 0 - This is in situ cancer, meaning that the cancer has not invaded the surrounding tissue. This is the earliest stage of cancer. .
Stage I - The tumor is under 2 cm in diameter and has not spread beyond the breast. .
Stage II - The tumor is either greater than 2 cm in size, or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.