Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A little bit more about necrosis and why self-exams are critical

My tumor was classified as Grade 3, which is aggressive.  Here is a little bit more information about grading cell growth and necrosis from

"Grade" of cancer cell growth: Patterns of cell growth are rated on a scale from 1 to 3 (also referred to as low, medium, and high instead of 1, 2 or 3). Calm, well-organized growth with few cells reproducing is considered grade 1. Disorganized, irregular growth patterns in which many cells are in the process of making new cells is called grade 3. The lower the grade, the more favorable the expected outcome. At the same time, the higher the grade, the more vulnerable the cancer is to treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Therefore, women with a "high" or "grade 3" breast cancer can also feel hopeful about treatment.

Dead cells within the tumor: It's tempting to think that the only good cancer cell is a dead cancer cell. However, necrosis (or dead tumor cells) is one of several signs of excessive tumor growth. It means that a tumor is growing so fast that some tumor cells wither and die because there's not enough blood supply to feed all of them. This is a small feature of the cancer but an unfavorable one, because the growth is at such a high rate.
This is interesting and explains to me why so many women have regular mammograms and don't get callbacks, then suddenly they discover a relatively large lump a few months later. 
I don't think it is an indicator of the likelihood of a recurrence.  Even though my tumor was high-grade, it had not spread to the nodes, which is where it's "supposed" to infiltrate first if the sentinel nodes are doing their jobs. 
The lesson learned is definitely to do your self-exams along with getting your annual mammograms.  Know your breasts, your lumps and bumps, and if you think there is something "different" going on, get it checked out.  Because yes, it could be nothing; or it could be an angry tumor.


  1. Michelle, is this new information that you just got? I was out all morning. Thank goodness your tests for the nodes came out great! We're all so thankful for that! You sure have done your homework on this. You also have helped us so much to become more aware of our bodies. I found it so interesting that the cells in the tumor can die out because it's faster growing. Who'd ever think that could be a good thing? This is why women need to be checking all the time, every month in the shower, or wherever. We're the ones who will find the lump. Remember how my doctor couldn't feel mind, but I knew it was there, and felt something. You have to not be afraid to say you want it checked out. Mine was just a cyst, but you never know.


  2. Thanks for the info Michelle. You rock!


  3. I'm learning so much from you.

    Here's a "something's wrong" story with a happy (and stupid) ending.

    I'd felt a bump or lump or something when I happened to touch my chest. This is when I was heavy and had more breast tissue (read: fat). I was worried so I immediately scheduled a mammogram at the breast center I've been going to for years. They did a mammogram and then said they should do an ultrasound to have the added information. When the doctor was doing the ultrasound she asked me to find the lump and show her. I did.

    Good part - no lump. Stupid part - it was part of my ribs. I've always had a boney chest but with the added fat, it never entered my mind it was part of my skeleton. So, though I felt like a fool, I DID follow up on my fear it was something else and I endorse wholeheartedly your call to get anything a woman considers "abnormal" checked out.

  4. Kathleen - that's funny! I'm glad you did check it out, though, because then you didn't have to worry about it.