Cancer Lesson #16: Vocabulary Lesson

Cancer Lesson #16: Vocabulary Lesson

Having cancer broadens your vocabulary. Now instead of saying, “I had breast cancer,” I can tell people, “I had a progesterone receptor positive, estrogen receptor negative, HER2 negative, malignant neoplasm in the lower right quadrant with lymph node involvement.”

The mass was a “ductal carcinoma,” and since it had spread to a lymph node, it would also be considered “invasive.”

What does all this mean?

Well, the progesterone and estrogen parts refer to whether or not my cancerous tissue was receptive to those types of hormones. That is, did those hormones help it to grow? My mass was receptive to progesterone (PR positive) and only very slightly receptive to estrogen (almost ER negative). According to WebMD, about 75% of breast cancers are ER positive. Being ER and PR positive is a good thing because these cancers can be fought using hormone suppressors. (http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-types-er-positive-her2-positive)

HER2 stands for Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2. It also promotes the growth of cancer cells, and HER2 positive cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/breast-cancer/AN00495)

“Ductal carcinoma” simply means my cancer started in the ducts – the parts of the breast that carry milk from the lobules, where the milk is produced.

Each one of these descriptors is important because they indicate where my cancer was, how much it had spread and how it grew. These facts, in turn, defined my options for the treatment of my “progesterone receptor positive, estrogen receptor negative, HER2 negative, malignant neoplasm in the lower right quadrant with lymph node involvement,” my “invasive ductal carcinoma.”

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