Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the breast, usually in the inner lining of the milk ducts or lobules. There are different types of breast cancer, with different stages (spread), aggressiveness, and genetic makeup. With best treatment, 10-year disease-free survival varies from 98% to 10%. Treatment includes surgery, drugs (hormone therapy and chemotherapy), and radiation.
In the United States, there were 216,000 cases of invasive breast cancer and 40,000 deaths in 2004. Worldwide, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer after lung cancer (10.4% of all cancer incidence, both sexes counted) and the fifth most common cause of cancer death. In 2004, breast cancer caused 519,000 deaths worldwide (7% of cancer deaths; almost 1% of all deaths).
Breast cancer is about 100 times as frequent among women as among men, but survival rates are equal in both sexes
Some breast cancers require the hormones estrogen and progesterone to grow, and have receptors for those hormones. Those cancers are treated with drugs that interfere with those hormones, usually tamoxifen, and with drugs that shut off the production of estrogen in the ovaries or elsewhere; this may damage the ovaries and end fertility. Low-risk, hormone-sensitive breast cancers may be treated with hormone therapy and radiation alone. Breast cancers without hormone receptors, or which have spread to the lymph nodes in the armpits, or which express certain genetic characeristics, are higher-risk, and are treated more aggressively. One standard regimen, popular in the U.S., is cycophosphamide plus doxorubicin (Adriomycin), known as CA; these drugs damage DNA in the cancer, but also in fast-growing normal cells where they cause serious side effects. Sometimes a taxane drug, such as docetaxel, is added, and the regime is then known as CAT; taxane attacks the microtubules in cancer cells. An equivalent treatment, popular in Europe, is cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil (CMF). Monoclonal antibodies, such as trastuzumab, are used for cancer cells that have the HER2 mutation. Radiation is usually added to the surgical bed to control cancer cells that were missed by the surgery, which usually extends survival, although radiation exposure to the heart may cause damage and heart failure in the following years.