Home > Cancers > Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer

Background

Breast cancer occurs when there is an abnormal growth of malignant (cancer) cells that start in the breast. While breast cancer is most common in women, it can also affect men. Not all lumps are cancerous. Most breast lumps are benign (non cancerous). Benign breast lumps are abnormal growths that do not travel outside of the breast. Most of these benign lumps are due to fibrocystic changes. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs and fibrosis is the formation of scar-like tissue. There are several types of breast cancer. For a complete list, please refer to the American Cancer Society.

Causes

There is no known cause for breast cancer. There are risk factors that increase the likelihood of having breast cancer, however, having a risk factor, even several, does not mean that a person will get the disease.

Risk Factors

Potential risk factors associated with breast cancer include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family history
  • Genetic risk factor
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Race
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Early onset of menstrual period
  • Earlier radiation treatment
  • Not having children or having them after the age of 30
  • Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy
  • Overweight
  • Lack of exercise

Symptoms

Potential symptoms associated with breast cancer include:

  • A lump in the breast
  • Swelling of all or part of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast pain
  • Nipple pain
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Redness
  • Scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge, other than breast milk
  • Lump in the underarm area

Diagnosis

Mammogram
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue. During a mammogram, the breast is held between two plates, while slight pressure is applied for a few seconds while the X-ray is taken.

Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam performed by a health care professional, such as a doctor, a physician's assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse.

MRI
For women at a higher risk for breast cancer, a doctor may order an MRI in addition to a mammogram. An MRI is not recommended as a screening tool, as it can miss some cancers that a mammogram will catch.

Ultrasound
Ultrasound, also called sonography, uses high-frequency sound waves that bounce off body tissues and generate a picture of the tissues and internal organs. Ultrasounds of the breast can determine the difference between a solid tumor and a fluid-filled cyst.

Ultrasound is also used to assist in other procedures, one being a needle biopsy (also called a fine needle aspiration). During this procedure, the ultrasound is used to guide the needle to the correct location, then the needle extracts some tissue or fluid to be examined under a microscope to test for disease.

During an ultrasound, a layer of lubricating jelly will be applied to the area being examined. This jelly improves the conduction of the sound waves, thus generating a better picture.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the size and staging of the tumor. For more information on treatment, please refer to the American Cancer Society.