What You Must Know about Breast Cancer

An expert answers two common questions.
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As soon as any woman suspects a problem or finds a lump, bump, ache, or pain in her breast, it's likely to strike fear in her heart. Could it be breast cancer? On a reassuring note, breast pain is almost never a sign of cancer. And breast lumpiness many times can be benign. But it's wise to take notice of irregularities and have them checked out.

The more you know about what's normal, the more likely you'll be able to notice any abnormalities...and get to a doctor promptly. The following roundup of issues and information will help you take the best possible care of your breasts.

What are my chances of getting breast cancer?

Although heart disease is currently women's biggest health threat, breast cancer remains the disease women dread most.

A woman has a one-in-eight chance of developing breast cancer over the course of her entire lifetime. To put that statistic in perspective, keep in mind that breast cancer is primarily a disease of older women. Approximately 80 percent of breast cancers occur in women age 50 and older. And on an encouraging note, although the risk of developing breast cancer is one in eight, the risk of dying from it is one in 28, according to the American Cancer Society.

What are my chances of surviving breast cancer?

At least 90 percent of women who find breast cancer in its earliest stage -- before it has spread to the lymph nodes -- can be effectively treated and cured, says Alison Estabrook, M.D., chief of breast surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, in New York City. That's why early detection and treatment are vital.


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