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Breast Cancer: Introduction

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD

Breast cancer occurs when a malignant (cancerous) tumor originates in the breast. As breast cancer tumors mature, they may metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. The primary route of metastasis is the lymphatic system which, ironically enough, is also the body's primary system for producing and transporting white blood cells and other cancer-fighting immune system cells throughout the body. Metastasized cancer cells that aren't destroyed by the lymphatic system's white blood cells move through the lymphatic vessels and settle in remote body locations, forming new tumors and perpetuating the disease process.

Breast cancer is fairly common. Because of its well-publicized nature, and potential for lethality, breast cancer can be a scary diagnosis for anyone to receive. However, it is important to keep in mind that, if identified and properly treated while still in its early stages, breast cancer can be cured.

Breast cancer is not just a woman's disease. It is possible for men to get breast cancer, although it occurs much less frequently in men than in women. Our discussion will focus primarily on breast cancer as it relates to women but it should be noted that much of the information is also applicable for men.