Breast cancer occurs when a malignant (cancerous) tumor originates in
the breast. As breast cancer tumors mature, they may metastasize
(spread) to other parts of the body. The primary route of metastasis is
the lymph system which, ironically enough, is also the body's primary
system for producing and transporting white blood cells and other
cancer-fighting immune system cells throughout the body. Metastasized
cancer cells that aren't destroyed by the lymph system's white blood
cells move through the lymph system and settle in remote body
locations, forming new tumors and perpetuating the disease process.
Breast cancer is fairly common. A recent National Cancer Institute
report estimates that one in every eight women (12.5%!) born in the
United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their
lifetime. Because of its well publicized nature, and potential for
lethality, breast cancer is arguably the most frightening type of
cancer diagnosis someone can receive. However, it is important to keep
in mind that, if identified and properly treated while still in its
early stages, breast cancer can be cured.
Breast cancer is not just a woman's disease. It is quite possible for
men to get breast cancer, although it occurs less frequently in men
than in women. Our discussion will focus primarily on breast cancer as
it relates to women but it should be noted that much of the information
is also applicable for men.