What is breast cancer?

  • Breast cancer involves abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells within the breast tissue.
  • Abnormal cells most often occur in the breast ducts and in the lobes (the parts of the breast that produce milk).
  • Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women, regardless of race or ethnicity.
  • Signs of breast cancer include lumps, dimpling of the skin, and other changes in the texture and composition of breast tissue.

What causes breast cancer?

There is no known cause of breast cancer, however many environmental and personal factors can contribute to a person's risk of developing breast cancer.

  •  Women over the age of 50 are more likely to have breast cancer.
  • Personal and family history of cancer of the breasts can increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Smoking and alchol use increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Being overweight.
  • Lack of excercise and a diet high in fat.

Preventative screening is the best method of preventing this disease.

Types of Screening

  • Breast Self-Exam: Beginning at the age of 20, all women should perform a monthly self-examination of their breasts to check for any changes in the texture and composition of the breast tissue.
  • Clinical Breast Exam: All women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam performed by their healthcare provider at least once every three years. This exam should take place at least yearly beginning at age 40.
  • Screening Mammogram: Women aged 40 and over should have a mammogram every year. A mammogram is a special x-ray of the breasts which is used to show changes in the tissue that may be cancerous.

Always alert your physician of any breast tissue changes!

Diagnosis

There are many tests that can be performed to diagnose suspected cancer as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

  • Diagnostic mammogram: An additional mammogram may be performed to examine a suspicious area in greater detail
  • Breast ultrasound: an ultrasound machine uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the breast, and can be used to focus on a suspicious area.
  • Biopsy: tissue and/or fluid is removed from the breast and then tested in a laboratory for signs of cancer.
  • MRI: a magnet resonance imaging machine can also be used to create a more detaild image of the inside of the breast.

Treatment

Treatment for breast cancer is different for every patient depending on the type and severity of the cancer present in the breast tissue. Many combinations of the types of treatments below can be used to treat this type of cancer.

  • Surgery: Cancerous tissue is surgically removed.
  • Chemotherapy: Specialized drugs are adminstered orally or by an IV. These chemicals indirectly target cells in body and destroy them or keep them from growing.
  • Radiation: High energy rays of radiation are used to directly target cancerous growths, destroying the cells and preventing further growth.

More Information

How to perform a Breast Self-Exam 

Centers for Disease Control - Fast Facts

Susan G. Komen Foundation Resources