Mobile and Invasive: Breast Cancer

Mobile and Invasive


The above two words seem more or less harmless. For example, the word mobile is often used to describe a phone, one that goes everywhere with you and is readily available when needed. Likewise the word invasive is often used to describe the weeds that harmlessly find their way into a manicured lawn. But when these two words are used in combination with one another they often spell trouble. Consider an analysis of the word malignant. The word describes a group of mobile cancer (tumor) cells that move throughout the body (metastasize) until they eventually invade and destroy organ at a distance from the organ within which they originated. By comparison, benign tumor cells are considered non-cancerous because they are immobile and thus are incapable of spreading and invading other parts of the body. The only thing they can do is grow larger. This makes them far less dangerous since they can most often be removed surgically.


What is it that makes one tumor type of tumor cell benign and another type malignant? Benign tumor cells are usually well differentiated (specialized). This means that they look very much like normal tissue cells. They also grow slowly and show little evidence of mitotic cell division. Malignant tumor cells by comparison are usually poorly differentiated and display a primitive cellular structure. They also are terribly erratic, fast growing and are mitotically very active. Thus it is easy to understand why mobile, invasive malignant tumors are more life threatening than benign tumors that usually only grow but do not move from place to place.


A focus on cancer is particularly appropriate this month because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is a highly malignant cancer that develops primarily from cells that line the ducts within the breast. Aside from lung cancer, it is the second leading cause of death in American women. It has been estimated that about 1 in 8 (12%) women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Breast cancer is dangerous because, being a malignant cancer, it can easily spread from the breast (primary site), via the blood stream and/or the lymphatic stream, to many other parts of the body (secondary sites) most particularly to the bones, liver, brain and lungs.


The month of October is known for its variety of fall of colors i.e., leaves reds and yellows and Halloween oranges and blacks. Now pink has taken a prominent place in this tapestry of color. Athletes ware pink shoes, use pink bats, and people wear pink t-shirts and pink ribbons in support of all the women who have breast cancer or those who, at some point in their lives, have had to deal with this often lethal disease. So it is important that you pay close attention to the messages that you’ll be seeing and hearing this month because a conscious awareness of breast cancer, its causes, symptoms, treatments, etc., is one of the best ways to understand and possibly even prevent this deadly disease. One of the messages I’m sure you’ll be hearing is that maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and limiting alcohol consumption are some of the best ways to help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. In addition regular mammogram screening can often find this breast cancer early when treatments are more likely to be successful.