Cancer that begins in the breast is called breast cancer, although there can be benign and malignant tumors found in the breast. The majority of breast cancer cases are found in women. The National Cancer Institute reports that less than one percent of cases occur in men.
The exact causes of breast cancer are unknown. Research has shown that the following conditions increase a woman's chances of developing breast cancer:
- Personal History: Women who have had breast cancer face an increased risk of developing breast cancer again.
- Family History: The risk for developing breast cancer increases if immediate family members (mother, sister or daughter) have had breast cancer, especially at a young age.
- Certain Breast Changes: A diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) may increase a woman's risk for getting breast cancer.
- Genetic Alterations: Changes in certain genes increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
- Estrogen: There is evidence suggesting that the longer a woman is exposed to estrogen (estrogen made by the body, taken as a drug or delivered by a patch) the more likely she is to develop breast cancer.
- Late Childbearing: Women who have their first child later (after about age 30) have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who have their children at a younger age.
- Breast Density: Breasts that have a more lobular and ductal tissue appear dense on mammograms. Breast cancer develops more in lobular or ductal tissue (not fatty tissue).
- Radiation Therapy: Women whose breasts have been exposed to radiation during radiation therapy before age 30.
- Alcohol: Some studies suggest a slightly higher risk of breast cancer among women who consume alcohol.
Early breast cancer does not normally cause pain. When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms. As the cancer grows, it can cause breast changes. Women should watch for the following:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge or tenderness, or the nipple pulled back (inverted) into the breast
- Ridges or pitting of the breast (the skin looks like the skin of an orange)
- A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola or nipple looks or feels (warm, swollen, red or scaly)
According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman should consult her physician about any such symptoms. Most often it is not cancer, but it's important to check with a doctor so that any problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Follow this link for screening guidelines recommended by the American Cancer Society.
To find the cause of any sign or symptom, a physician needs to perform a careful physical exam and asks about personal and family medical history. The physician may do one or more breast examinations:
- Mammography: An X-ray of the breast can give the physician important information about a lump found in the breast.
- Ultrasonography: Using high-frequency sound waves can often show whether a breast lump is a fluid-filled (not cancer) cyst or a solid mass (which may or may not be cancer).
- Biopsy: The physician may determine that fluid or tissue must be removed from the breast so that a diagnosis can be made.
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. There are several types of surgeries:
- Lumpectomy and Segmental Mastectomy: Surgery to remove the cancer but not the breast.
- Mastectomy: An operation in which the breast is removed.
- Axillary Lymph Node Dissection is performed in most cases. This is a procedure in which the lymph nodes under the arm are removed.
- Radiation Therapy: Also called radiotherapy, it uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Uses anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells.
- Hormonal Therapy: Keeps cancer cells from getting the hormones they need for growth.
- Biological Therapy: Also called immunotherapy, biological therapy uses and enhances the body's immune system to fight cancer.
After a mastectomy, some women decide to wear a breast form or prosthesis. Other women may prefer to have breast reconstruction surgery, either at the same time as the mastectomy or later on. Every woman treated for breast cancer has choices and may wish to consult with a plastic surgeon.
For a physician referral, call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).
Source: National Cancer Institute