Breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the breast tissue. It is the most common cancer in women in the United States. The breast is made up of lobules, which make milk and duct that allow milk to pass to the nipple. The lobules are surrounded by fat, connective tissue, blood vessels, and lymphatic tissue.
There are many different types of types of breast cancer, some examples include:
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths that are able to invade other tissue. The cancer will continue to grow and spread in the area. Once the cancer has invaded lymph nodes or blood vessels some cancer cells can metastasize, travel to other areas of the body and form new tumors. The lymph nodes associated with breast cancer are in the armpit, above the collarbone, and in the chest.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells.
Factors that may increase your chance of breast cancer include:
Note: Most women with known risk factors do not get breast cancer. Many women who get breast cancer have none of the risk factors listed above except age.
Some may have no symptoms at all while other may have:
Note: These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious health conditions. See a doctor about any symptoms that may be worrisome.
Breast cancer may be found during a mammogram screening. Screening recommendations for women include:
Breast changes may also be found during a regular medical visit. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam, breast exam, and blood tests will be done.
If breast cancer is suspected from screening or physical exam, imaging tests may be needed to confirm diagnose and evaluate the cancer. Imaging tests may include:
Your doctor will test the suspicious breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes. A sample of the tissue will be removed and sent to a lab to look for cancer cells. This can be done with different types of biopsies, such as:
If cancer is present, your doctor may order tests to learn about the type of cancer. These may include:
A combination of your test results will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, breast cancer is staged from 0-IV (0-4):
Cancer treatment varies depending on a number of factors including the stage and type of cancer. The plan may include one or more types of treatment to attack any current cancer and reduce the risk of spread or recurrence.
Treatment options include:
The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. The surgery may also be used to remove tissue for detailed testing. The type of surgery will depend on the stage and type of cancer and overall treatment plan. Options include:
Radiation therapy may be used to kill cancer cells or stop their growth. It is often used after surgery to try to eliminate any remaining cancer cells and decrease chance of recurrence. Radiation therapy may also be used to shrink tumors that are causing symptoms. The main types of radiation include:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well causing a variety of symptoms.
The following therapies may be to used as overall part of care:
Not all cancers can be prevented but the risk of some cancers may be reduced with:
Options that may be available for those with a high risk of breast cancer include:
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Canadian Cancer Society
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Last reviewed December 2016 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.