You or a loved one has just been given a diagnosis of breast cancer. Your initial reaction is panic. But is a diagnosis of breast cancer as life threatening as a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer?
Cancer.gov lists among its various types of cancers everything from AIDS to ovarian cancer to vaginal cancer. And among the various forms of cancers are also different forms within those cancers. Breast cancer, for instance, is not a one-size-fits-all type of cancer. Various forms of breast cancer differentiate one type of breast cancer from another.
Treatment plans also vary. One treatment plan for one type of breast cancer will not work for another type of breast cancer. Doctors must take into account the patient’s own medical history, the medical history of her family, and the medications she is currently taking.
Different forms of breast cancer include:
Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS), a breast cancer found in the breast ducts;
Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), the most common type of cancer, which represents 78% of all malignancies;
Infiltrating Lobular Carcinoma (ILC), which represents 5% of all breast cancers and appears usually in the upper outer quadrant of the breast;
Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), which accounts for 1-5% of all breast cancers and is a rare and aggressive cancer that causes the breast to look inflamed and swollen. It also blocks the lymph vessels.
Medullary Carcinoma, which accounts for 15% of breast cancers and occurs most frequently in mature women;
Mucinous Carcinoma (Colloid), which represents 1-2% of breast cancers and is defined by the production of mucous in the breast;
Tubular Carcinoma, which makes up 2% of all breast cancers and appears tubular under the microscope.
Within those categories are a number of cancer types that require their own special cocktail of chemo drugs if the patient is put on chemotherapy and a regimen that may or may not include radiation.
Once the cancer type is detected, cancer patients must decide whether or not to have lumpectomies or mastectomies as well. A mastectomy will require only chemotherapy while a lumpectomy will require both chemotherapy and radiation – depending on the type of breast cancer.
A number of web sites are devoted to referring patients to breast cancer specialists. And clinical trials are being conducted all the time. Contact your local hospital for a referral to a hospital that specializes in breast cancer.
And be warned – just because you don’t know about a family history of breast cancer doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. In earlier decades people didn’t discuss breast problems. You might have an aunt, uncle, or grandparent who lost a breast due to breast cancer and never told anybody about it.
Also, mammograms do not always detect breast cancer. Monthly self exams are necessary, especially when your family has a history of breast cancer. Learning how to properly examine your breast is of utmost importance. The National Breast Cancer organization provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform a breast self-exam. Visit them at NationalBreastCancer.Org (source is listed below).
Going back to the initial question about whether breast cancer is more likely to result in death than pancreatic cancer, the National Cancer Institute offers these numbers (estimates) for 2009:
Pancreatic Cancer: 35,240
Breast Cancer: 40,170 (female); 440 (male).