“Mammogram.” “Triple-negative.” “Tumor stage.”
Patients may hear some — or all — of these words while speaking to their doctors about breast cancer. Understanding these terms and how they can affect you may be key to getting the help you need.
Below are their definitions, as well some other common breast cancer-related terms and what they mean.
Benign: When something is not cancer.
BRCA-1 and BRCA-2: These two types of breast cancer susceptibility genes usually “help protect you from getting cancer,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. “But when you have changes or mutations on one or both of your BRCA genes, cells are more likely to divide and change rapidly, which can lead to cancer.”
Carcinoma: The term signifies “cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs,” according to the charity Cancer Research UK.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): It’s “essentially a cell that looks like a breast cancer but it’s confined in the ducts” of the breast, Dr. Laura Spring with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Fox News. It’s not yet able to spread distantly in the body, she explained.
Dr. Adam Brufsky, a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine professor, stressed the importance of finding DCIS, saying that it could become invasive cancer if it’s left untreated.
HER2/neu: Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2/neu) is a type of “protein involved in cell growth and survival and appears on the surface of some breast cancer cells,” the Susan G. Komen website explains. Testing may be done to determine a patient’s HER2 status, which can indicate if there’s a high amount of HER2/neu in the cancer.
Patients may also be tested to find out their hormone receptor status, which indicates “whether or not a breast cancer needs hormones to grow,” Susan G. Komen says. HER2 status and hormone receptor status can affect the type of care someone gets.
Invasive ductal carcinoma: A type of breast cancer that begins in cells lining a duct before it “breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the nearby breast tissues,” the American Cancer Society (ACS) says.
Invasive lobular cancer: This breast cancer type begins in glands called lobules, according to the ACS.
Lumpectomy: When a lump and some tissue is removed from a breast.
Malignant: When something is cancer.
Mammogram: This is a “low-dose x-ray that allows radiologists to look for changes in the breast,” said Dr. Elizabeth Arleo, a radiologist with NewYork Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. She explained that it “can find breast cancer early when it’s small even before a lump can be felt and it’s easiest to treat.”
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) says online that it “recommends biennial screening mammography for women aged 50 to 74 years.”
“Women who place a higher value on the potential benefit than the potential harms may choose to begin biennial screening between the ages of 40 and 49 years,” the task force says.
Arleo and others worked on a study published in August that “used computer modeling to estimate the possible effects” from three different screening recommendations on female breast cancer deaths, a news release said.
“The team found that the recommendation of annual screening starting at age 40 would result in the greatest reduction in breast cancer–specific deaths: a nearly 40 percent reduction in deaths due to breast cancer,” it said.
“Annual screening starting at 40 saves the most lives,” Arleo told Fox News.
Mastectomy: This refers to “surgery to remove a breast or part of a breast,” MedLine Plus says.
Metastasis: This describes cancer extending to other areas of the body, the CDC says.
Occult cancer: This is when cancer is “hidden” and accidentally found, Brufsky explained.
Systemic therapy: This is when treatments such as hormone therapy and chemotherapy affect the entire body, according to Brufsky.
Triple-negative: This describes when “tumor cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors and also don’t have too much of the protein called HER2,” the ACS says.
Tumor grade: It’s a “measure of how quickly the tumor cells are dividing and how different they look compared to a normal cell,” according to Spring.