by Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
Breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the breast tissue.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Although most people think of breast cancer as affecting women, men can develop breast cancer as well. Breast cancer in men can be more aggressive.
The cause of breast cancer is not known. Research shows that certain risk factors are associated with the disease.
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that increase your risk for breast cancer include:
Note: Studies show that 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.
When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. But as the cancer grows, it can cause the following changes:
Note: These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious health conditions. Anyone experiencing these should see a doctor.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It will include a breast exam.
After breast cancer is found, staging tests are done. This will help to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent.
Treatment may include one or a combination of the following treatments:
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Two main types of radiation may be used:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well.
Biologic therapy is the use of medicines or substances made by the body. They can increase or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. It is also called biologic response modifier (BRM) therapy.
Hormonal therapy is designed to take advantage of the fact that many breast cancers are estrogen sensitive. Estrogen binds to the estrogen-sensitive cells and stimulates them to grow and divide. Anti-estrogen drugs prevent the binding of estrogen. This stops the cells from growing and prevents or delays breast cancer from returning.
Finding breast cancer early and treating it is the best way to prevent death from the disease. Breast cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages. It is important to have screening exams and tests. These steps can help to find the cancer before symptoms appear. The following recommendations are for women with no symptoms who are not high risk for breast cancer:
If you have an increased risk of breast cancer, you may need to start having mammograms earlier. You and your doctor can decide on the best screening schedule for you.
There are two medications to prevent breast cancer in high-risk, postmenopausal women. These medications increase your chances of having blood clots and stroke. Talk to your doctor about whether medication is right for you.
If you are at very high risk for breast cancer, surgery to remove your breasts before you get cancer (called prophylactic mastectomy) may be an option.
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer of the female breast. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://seer.cancer.gov/publications/survival/surv_breast.pdf. Accessed January 21, 2013.
Learn about breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/index. Accessed January 21, 2013.
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Last reviewed September 2012 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 10/1/2013