Breast Cancer
Colorectal (Colon) Cancer
Lung Cancer
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Cervical Cancer

Breast Cancer

Basic Information

Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. Cancers are named after the part of the body where the abnormal cell growth begins. Breast cancers are cancer cells from the breast. When breast cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, they are called metastases.

Common Kinds of Breast Cancer

There are different kinds of breast cancer. The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer. Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast, like the ducts or the lobes.

Common kinds of breast cancer are

Ductal carcinoma
The most common kind of breast cancer. It begins in the cells that line the milk ducts in the breast, also called the lining of the breast ducts.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
The abnormal cancer cells are only in the lining of the milk ducts, and have not spread to other tissues in the breast.

Invasive ductal carcinoma
The abnormal cancer cells break through the ducts and spread into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.

Lobular carcinoma
In this kind of breast cancer, the cancer cells begin in the lobes, or lobules, of the breast. Lobules are the glands that make milk.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
The cancer cells are found only in the breast lobules. Lobular carcinoma in situ, or LCIS, does not spread to other tissues very often.

Invasive lobular carcinoma
Cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.

Fast Facts

Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is

  • The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
  • The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
  • The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

In 2003 (the most recent year numbers are available):

181,646 women and 1,826 men developed breast cancer.
41,619 women and 379 men died from breast cancer.

Men can also get breast cancer. In men, breast cancer can happen at any age, but is most common in men who are between 60 and 70 years old. Male breast cancer is not very common. For every 100 cases of breast cancer, less than 1 are in men.

For men, signs of breast cancer and treatment are almost the same as for women.


Different people have different warning signs for breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. A person may find out they have breast cancer after a routine mammogram.

Some warning signs of breast cancer are

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
    Pain in any area of the breast.

Keep in mind that some of these warning signs can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.


Kinds of Screening Tests

Breast cancer screening means checking a woman's breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Three main tests are used to screen the breasts for cancer. Talk to your doctor about which tests are right for you, and when you should have them.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. 1 If you are age 40 years or older, be sure to have a screening mammogram every one to two years.

Clinical breast exam
A clinical breast exam is an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes. 2

Breast self-exam
A breast self-exam is when you check your own breasts for lumps, changes in size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breasts or underarm (armpit).


Doctors often use additional tests to find or diagnose breast cancer.

Breast ultrasound
A machine uses sound waves to make detailed pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.

Diagnostic mammogram
If you have a problem in your breast, such as lumps, or if an area of the breast looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, doctors may have you get a diagnostic mammogram. This is a more detailed X-ray of the breast.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A kind of body scan that uses a magnet linked to a computer. The MRI scan will make detailed pictures of areas inside the breast.

This is a test that removes tissue or fluid from the breast to be looked at under a microscope and do more testing. There are different kinds of biopsies (for example, fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, or open biopsy).


Kinds of Treatment

Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biologic therapy, and radiation. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

An operation where doctors cut out and remove cancer tissue.

Using special medicines, or drugs to shrink or kill the cancer. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given through an intravenous (IV) tube, or, sometimes, both.

Hormonal therapy
Some cancers need certain hormones to grow. Hormonal treatment is used to block cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.

Biological therapy
This treatment works with your body's immune system to help it fight cancer or to control side effects from other cancer treatments. Side effects are how your body reacts to drugs or other treatments. Biological therapy is different from chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells directly.

The use of high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer cells. The rays are aimed at the part of the body where the cancer is located.
It is common for doctors from different specialties to work together in treating breast cancer. Surgeons are doctors that perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors that treat cancers with medicines. Radiation oncologists are doctors that treat cancers with radiation.


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