Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women.
Public support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths has been declining, thanks to a number of factors such as earlier detection, new treatments and a better understanding of the disease.
Each breast contains 15 to 20 lobes of glandular tissue, arranged like the petals of a daisy. The lobes are further divided into smaller lobules that produce milk for breast feeding. Small tubes (...
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:
When to see a doctor
Breast and nipple changes can be a sign of breast cancer. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice anything unusual. ...
It's not clear what causes breast cancer. Doctors know that breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin growing abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. The cells may spread (metastasize) through your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.
Breast cancer most often begins with cells in the milk-producing ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma). Breast cancer may also begin in the glandular tissue called lobules (invasive lobular carcinoma) or in other cells within the breast.
Researchers have identified things that can increase your risk of breast cancer. But it's not clear why some people who have no risk factors develop cancer, yet other people with risk factors never do. It's likely that breast cancer is caused by a complex interaction of your genetic makeup and your environment.
Inherited breast cancer
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or other cancers, blood tests may help identify mutations in BRCA or other genes that are being passed through your family.
Consider asking your doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor, who can review your family health history. A genetic counselor can also discuss the benefits, risks and limitations of genetic testing with you.
A breast cancer risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you'll get breast cancer. But having one or even several breast cancer risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you'll develop breast cancer. Many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than simply being women.
Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:
Preparing for your appointment
Consulting with your health care team
What you can do to prepare
Questions to ask your doctor
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask additional questions that may occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Diagnosing breast cancer
Other tests and procedures may be used depending on your situation.
Staging breast cancer
Tests and procedures used to stage breast cancer may include:
Not all women will need all of these tests and procedures. Your doctor selects the appropriate tests based on your specific circumstances.
Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV, with 0 indicating cancer that is very small and noninvasive. Stage IV breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
Ultrasound-guided breast biopsy
During a core needle biopsy, a special needle is inserted into the suspicious area — in this case, a breast lump — and a small, solid core of tissue is withdrawn. Ultrasound — a ...
Treatments and drugs
Your doctor determines your breast cancer treatment options based on your type of breast cancer, its stage and grade, whether the cancer cells are sensitive to hormones, your overall health and your own preferences. Most women undergo surgery for breast cancer and also receive additional treatment, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation.
There are many options for breast cancer treatment, and you may feel overwhelmed as you make complex decisions about your treatment. Consider seeking a second opinion from a breast specialist in a breast center or clinic. Talk to other women who have faced the same decision.
Breast cancer surgery
Complications of breast cancer surgery depend on the procedures you choose. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection.
Some women choose to have breast reconstruction after surgery. Discuss your options and preferences with your surgeon. Consider a referral to a plastic surgeon before your breast cancer surgery. Your options may include reconstruction with a synthetic breast implant or reconstruction using your own tissue. These operations can be performed at the time of your mastectomy or at a later date.
External beam radiation is commonly used after lumpectomy for early-stage breast cancer. Doctors may also recommend radiation therapy after mastectomy for larger breast cancers or cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes.
Side effects of radiation therapy include fatigue and a red, sunburn-like rash where the radiation is aimed. Breast tissue may also appear swollen or more firm. Rarely, more-serious problems may occur, such as damage to the heart or lungs or, very rarely, second cancers in the treated area.
Chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery in women with larger breast tumors. The goal is to shrink a tumor to a size that makes it easier to remove with surgery.
Chemotherapy is also used in women whose cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy may be recommended to try to control the cancer and decrease any symptoms the cancer is causing.
Chemotherapy side effects depend on the drugs you receive. Common side effects include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and an increased risk of developing infection. Rare side effects can include premature menopause, damage to the heart and kidneys, nerve damage, and, very rarely, blood cell cancer.
Hormone therapy can be used after surgery or other treatments to decrease the chance of your cancer returning. If the cancer has already spread, hormone therapy may shrink and control it.
Treatments that can be used in hormone therapy include:
During a lumpectomy, your surgeon makes an incision large enough to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. The rest of your breast remains intact. ...
Simple mastectomy and modified radical mastectomy
A simple mastectomy (left) removes the breast tissue, nipple, areola and skin but not all the lymph nodes. A modified radical mastectomy (right) removes the entire breast — including the breast ...
Sentinel node biopsy
To determine whether cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, doctors may use a sentinel node biopsy. Doctors determine which lymph node is likely to be the first stop for spreading cancer cells ...
External beam radiation uses high-powered beams to kill cancer cells. Beams of radiation are precisely aimed at the breast cancer using a machine that moves around your body. ...
No alternative medicine treatments have been found to cure breast cancer. But complementary and alternative medicine therapies may help you cope with side effects of treatment when combined with your doctor's care.
Alternative medicine for fatigue
Talk with your doctor about:
Coping and support
A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. And just when you're trying to cope with the shock and the fears about your future, you're asked to make important decisions about your treatment.
Every woman finds her own way of coping with a breast cancer diagnosis. Until you find what works for you, it might help to:
Breast cancer risk reduction for women with an average risk
Breast cancer risk reduction for women with a high risk
To perform a breast self-exam, use a circling, massaging motion with your fingers. A breast self-exam can help you become familiar with the normal changes in your breasts. ...
Last Updated: 2013-05-22
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