Thursday, March 21, 2013

Explaining Breast Cancer

Yesterday morning when I received wonderful news regarding my breast cancer genetics (see below), I realized I haven't explained, in any depth, my type of cancer. So here goes - I've learned the language of cancer over the past seven months. I was planning on brushing up on my Spanish, oh well! 

I have Stage 1 Grade 3 Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer.

Stage: Stage is explained as the original location of the cancer and how far the cancer has spread - usually from 0-4. Mine is Stage 1 - there was a visible and palpable tumor, but it had not spread to surrounding tissue or to the lymph nodes, or to other organs (as far as we're aware).

Grade: Grade is a "score" that describes the different types of cancer cells, particularly on level of how they appear and differ from surrounding normal cells. From Grade 1 to Grade 4, with my cancer cells looking different from normal cells. They grow quickly divide rapidly, are disorganized (my cells, no way!), and have irregular patterns.

Triple Negative (TNBC): Cancers, especially in women, have 3 points that determine the receptiveness of cancer cells to particular treatments. These receptors include whether the cells are estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR), and protein receptive (Her2/neu). Determining this means each point can be positive or negative. If the cancer is ER and PR +, then treatment will often include a hormone-therapy chemotherapy medication that is taken on a daily basis for months, because the cancer is a receptor of this targeted treatment.

I have TNBC, or ER-, PR-, Her2-. Because my cancer cells do not respond to hormones, I had to have the chemotherapy that is basically a one chance to kill these cells, because I will not respond to hormone therapy or receptor targeted treatment.

My cancer usually appears in African-American women, younger women (pre-menopausal), and often shows a genetic tendency. It shows in 15-25% of breast cancers.

Genetic testing may be used to determine whether or not the TNBC is genetic. The BRCA test is a blood test, which shows the susceptibility of two cancer genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. I am not, hallelujah, found out yesterday, a carrier of the gene mutation. This is great for my siblings and my children. TNBC often jumps from breast to ovaries, meaning I was facing the possibility of ovary removal, but no longer! One less surgery for me.

TNBC cancer is typically more aggressive, and the risk of "relapse" is higher for TNBC, for the first 3-5 years, then drops below the hormone-positive cancers.

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, and I'll leave it at that! 

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