Saint Alphonsus Health System

Just Diagnosed

When a woman finds a breast lump or is informed that her mammogram is abnormal, her first thought is: "I have breast cancer." Fortunately, this is usually not the case. However, until more definitive information becomes available, she is in a state of high anxiety. We recognize the stress associated with newly discovered breast problems.

To that end, we get the patient in for evaluation as soon as possible usually within the same day of the call. The patient will be examined, previous records will be reviewed, and additional mammographic evaluation will be performed, if indicated. Finally, our staffed radiologist will discuss the results and plan to the patient before leaving our facility.

What is Breast Cancer?

Understanding the basics of breast cancer is an important early step in coming to grips with your new diagnosis. The breast is made up of cells which, under normal conditions, divide and form new cells in an orderly fashion. In cancer, the cells divide in an uncontrolled fashion. By definition, cancer is uncontrolled cell growth. In the early stages, the cells remain in the milk-producing glands (lobules, which make milk) or the ducts (tubes which transport milk from the glands to the nipple). When the cancer cells are confined to the ducts or lobules, the cancer is referred to as “in-situ”, or non-invasive. These in-situ or non-invasive cancers are considered curable.

With time, some cancers develop the ability to penetrate the lining of the ducts and invade into the surrounding tissue. Tumors that have invaded the lining of the duct are called invasive, or infiltrating, cancers. At first, these invasive tumors are confined to the breast and are at least potentially curable by local removal (lumpectomy and radiation) or by mastectomy.

As the invasive tumors grow, they eventually invade into the surrounding lymphatic or blood vessels of the breast. Once they have invaded these structures, they can spread (metastasize) to other sites in the body. The usual first sight of metastasis is the under arm (axillary) lymph nodes. Cells can also spread to other organs of the body. The most common sites for distant metastasis are the bones, the liver, the brain, or the lung.