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Terms breast cancer patients need to know

Published On: Sep 16 2011 04:03:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 08 2009 07:38:18 AM CDT
Pink Breast Cancer Bracelets

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Kelly Herdrich, Contributing writer

When a loved one receives a breast cancer diagnosis, being there for help and support is often the only, and best, thing you can do.

However, it can't hurt to know something about the condition and its treatment. Here are some common terms and medical procedures to familiarize yourself with for those important talks with the breast cancer patient in your life.

Diagnosis

There are two main forms of breast cancer, each coming in two different forms, depending on their severity.

Ductal carcinoma

According to MayoClinic.com, breast cancer most commonly begins in the milk-transporting ducts. WebMD.com notes two particular types of ductal carcinoma: invasive ductal carcinoma, which begins in the ducts and spreads to the fatty tissue around the duct, and ductal carcinoma in situ, where the cancer is still contained in the duct.

Lobular carcinoma

This type of breast cancer begins in the lobules of the breast, where breast milk is made, according to WebMD.com. As with ductal carcinoma, lobular carcinoma comes in two forms: infiltrating lobular carcinoma, which has spread from the lobules, or lobular carcinoma in situ, which is still contained there.

Procedures

MayoClinic.com notes four procedures that may be undergone in conjunction with identifying breast cancer.

Mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that commonly occurs in the early stages of diagnosis for breast cancer.

Ultrasound

Though many assume that ultrasounds are used only for examining pregnancies, ultrasounds are also helpful for doctors to examine lumps in the breast.

MRI

If the doctor needs clearer pictures of the breast, he'll send the patient for an magnetic resonance iamge. This will paint a clearer picture than an ultrasound or a mammogram.

Biopsy

A biopsy is performed to get more conclusive evidence directly from the source -- the breast tissue itself. A sample is taken from the lump and then sent to the lab for more conclusive analysis.

Treatment

There are a variety of treatment options for breast cancer, and the doctor will plan out a course of action depending on the type of cancer suspected from the procedures done.

Mastectomy

A mastectomy is what most women immediately think of when they hear the words breast cancer. In a mastectomy, the entire breast is removed.

Lumpectomy In contrast to a mastectomy, in a lumpectomy, only the lump itself is removed. This is possible when the cancer has been contained and not spread to surrounding breast tissue.

Radiation

According to MayoClinic.com, radiation therapy employs high-powered energy such as X-rays to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

It's important to understand the distinction between radiation and chemotherapy, as many patients and their family members get the two terms confused. WebMD.com notes that chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells, instead of radiation. The two may be used in conjunction with one another, which is perhaps why the terminology gets confusing for patients.