October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As such, this month is the perfect opportunity for all of us to educate ourselves about breast cancer, which is one of the most common forms of cancer and potentially one of the most dangerous if not diagnosed and treated early. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives; in addition, over 2,100 men in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with over 400 succumbing annually to the disease.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Unfortunately, scientists are still trying to determine the exact causes of breast cancer. Of course, breast cancer, like every type of cancer, is caused by damage to a cell’s DNA.
Researchers have identified several risk factors that make it more likely for a person to develop cancer. These risk factors include:
- Age — two out of three women diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 55
- Race — white women are more likely to be diagnosed than any other race
- Family history — your risk of developing breast cancer increases greatly if you have a blood relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50
- Prior diagnoses of breast cancer or abnormal cells in breast tissue
- Early menstruation, late menopause, and having children at a later age
- Genetic markers, including BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Dense breast tissue
While these risk factors cannot be controlled, other environmental and lifestyle risk factors may be avoidable, including:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
- Overweight or obesity
- Frequent and/or heavy consumption of alcohol
- Radiation therapy to the chest area
- Combined hormone replacement therapy (often used for treatment for menopause)
Of course, many people will have one or many of these risk factors, while between 60 and 70 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors.
Stages and Types of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer, like other types of cancer, is classified into five stages (with several substages), based on the size of the tumor and its spread in the body:
- Stage 0 — a non-invasive collection of abnormal cells that have not moved past where they originally developed in the breast tissue
- Stage 1 — Abnormal cells are evidently cancer but have not moved past where they began to develop; this stage is broken into 1A and 1B depending on the size of the tumor
- Stage 2 — Cancer is growing but remains confined to the breast tissue or surrounding lymph nodes; this stage is also broken down into 2A and 2B based on the size of the tumor and/or whether it has spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage 3 — Cancer has extended beyond the immediate area surrounding the original tumor, but has not yet spread to more distant organs and tissues; this stage is broken into 3A, 3B, and 3C based on the size of the tumor and spread
- Stage 4 — Cancer has spread to other organs, including lungs, liver, and brain
Breast cancer is also identified by different types, including:
- Ductal carcinoma, where the cancer begins in the lining of the breast milk duct
- Lobular breast cancer, which begins in the milk glands
- Medullary carcinoma, which does not form a “lump”
- Tubular carcinoma, which has a tubular structure
- Mucinous carcinoma, which results in mucus product
- Paget disease, where the cancer begins in the skin of the nipple or areola
- Metastatic breast cancer, another name for Stage 4 breast cancer
Detection and Diagnosis
Symptoms of possible breast cancer include:
- Tenderness of the nipple
- A lump or thickening around the breast or underarm area
- Change in skin texture or enlargement of the pores
- A lump in the breast tissue
- Unexplained changes in the size or shape of the breast, including unexplained swelling (especially when occurring to only one breast)
- Any nipple discharge when you are not lactating
Adults, especially women, are encouraged to perform a breast self-exam at least once a month for any noticeable and unexplained changes to the breast. Your physician or gynecologist should also conduct a clinical physical exam during your annual physical. Finally, women over 40 (or who have other risk factors) should have a mammogram performed every one to two years.
Signs of potential breast cancer will be confirmed as cancer through a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, lab tests, and/or biopsy.
Treatment for breast cancer depends on how advanced the cancer is. Options include:
- Surgery, the most common form of treatment, where tumors and surrounding tissue are removed; in some cases, a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast tissue) and breast reconstruction may be recommended
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapies, including immunotherapy
Misdiagnosis of Breast Cancer and What to Do
Unfortunately, breast cancer is sometimes misdiagnosed by a doctor, even when a patient is undergoing directed tests and exams for the cancer. Reasons why breast cancer may be misdiagnosed or have a delayed diagnosis include:
- Failure to take a full patient history to identify risk factors
- Failure to schedule a patient for regular clinical exams and mammograms
- Failure to order lab testing to identify chemical markers for breast cancer
- Failure to order other diagnostic testing, such as a MRI or a biopsy
- Failure to consult with breast cancer specialists or refer the patient to specialists for a second opinion
If you believe you had a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of your breast cancer, a medical malpractice attorney can help by thoroughly reviewing your medical records to determine whether the applicable standard of care was followed in your treatment and whether any deviation from the standard of care was responsible for the failure to diagnose your breast cancer.
Contact A Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your Cancer Misdiagnosis Case in Pennsylvania
Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Pittsburgh cancer misdiagnosis attorneys at Berger & Lagnese, LLC are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists throughout Pennsylvania, including Butler, Cranberry Township, Erie, and Greensburg. Call us today at (412) 471-4300 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is located at 310 Grant St., Suite 720, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.