General Information About Breast Cancer
- Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
- A family history of breast cancer and other factors increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
- The use of certain medicines and other factors decrease the risk of breast cancer.
- Signs of breast cancer include a lump or change in the breast.
- Tests that examine the breasts are used to detect (find) and diagnose breast cancer.
- If cancer is found, tests are done to study the cancer cells.
- Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
The is made up of and . Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes. Each lobe has many smaller sections called . Lobules end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can make milk. The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are linked by thin tubes called ducts.
Each breast also has and . The lymph vessels carry an almost colorless called . Lymph vessels carry lymph between . Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They filter substances in lymph and help fight and disease. Clusters of lymph nodes are found near the breast in the (under the arm), above the , and in the chest.
The most common type of is , which begins in the of the ducts. that begins in the lobes or lobules is called and is more often found in both breasts than are other types of breast cancer. is an uncommon type of breast cancer in which the breast is warm, red, and swollen.
A family history of breast cancer and other factors increase the risk of breast cancer.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a . Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk for breast cancer.
Risk factors for breast cancer include the following:
- A of , (DCIS), or (LCIS).
- A personal history of (noncancer) breast disease.
- A of breast cancer in a (mother, daughter, or sister).
- Inherited changes in the that increase the risk of breast cancer.or genes or in other
- Breast that is dense on a .
- Exposure of breast tissue to made by the body. This may be caused by:
- Taking such as estrogen combined with for of menopause.
- Treatment with to the breast/chest.
- Drinking .
Older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.
uses a woman's risk factors to estimate her risk for breast cancer during the next five years and up to age 90. This online tool is meant to be used by a . For more information on breast cancer risk, call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
The genes in cells carry the information that is received from a person’s parents. Hereditary breast cancer makes up about 5% to 10% of all breast cancer. Some genes related to breast cancer are more common in certain ethnic groups.
Women who have certain gene , such as a or mutation, have an increased risk of breast cancer. These women also have an increased risk of , and may have an increased risk of other cancers. Men who have a mutated gene related to breast cancer also have an increased risk of breast cancer. For more information, see the PDQ summary on .
The use of certain medicines and other factors decrease the risk of breast cancer.
- Taking any of the following:
- Less exposure of to made by the body. This can be a result of:
- Getting enough exercise.
- Having any of the following procedures:
Signs of breast cancer include a lump or change in the breast.
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast.
- A turned inward into the breast.
- Fluid, other than breast milk, from the nipple, especially if it's bloody.
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or (the dark area of skin around the nipple).
- Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange, called .
Tests that examine the breasts are used to detect (find) and diagnose breast cancer.
Check with your doctor if you notice any changes in your breasts. The following tests and procedures may be used:
- : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- : An exam of the breast by a doctor or other health professional. The doctor will carefully feel the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
- : An of the breast.
- : A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a . The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
- : A procedure that uses a magnet, , and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of both breasts. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
- : A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease.
- : The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a by a to check for signs of cancer. If a lump in the breast is found, a biopsy may be done.
There are four types of biopsy used to check for breast cancer:
- : The removal of an entire lump of tissue.
- : The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue.
- : The removal of tissue using a wide needle.
- : The removal of tissue or fluid, using a thin needle.
If cancer is found, tests are done to study the cancer cells.
Decisions about the best treatment are based on the results of these tests. The tests give information about:
- how quickly the cancer may grow.
- how likely it is that the cancer will spread through the body.
- how well certain treatments might work.
- how likely the cancer is to (come back).
Tests include the following:
- : A test to measure the amount of and in cancer tissue. If there are more estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal, the cancer is called and/or . This type of breast cancer may grow more quickly. The test results show whether treatment to block estrogen and progesterone may stop the cancer from growing.
- : A to measure how many HER2/neu genes there are and how much HER2/neu is made in a sample of tissue. If there are more HER2/neu genes or higher levels of HER2/neu protein than normal, the cancer is called . This type of breast cancer may grow more quickly and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body. The cancer may be treated with that target the HER2/neu protein, such as and .
- : Tests in which samples of tissue are studied to look at the activity of many genes at the same time. These tests may help predict whether cancer will spread to other parts of the body or recur (come back).
- : This test helps predict whether or that is estrogen receptor positive and will spread to other parts of the body. If the risk that the cancer will spread is high, may be given to lower the risk.
- : This test helps predict whether stage I or stage II breast cancer that is node negative will spread to other parts of the body. If the risk that the cancer will spread is high, chemotherapy may be given to lower the risk.
Based on these tests, breast cancer is described as one of the following types:
- (estrogen and/or ) or ( and/or ).
- HER2/neu positive or .
- (estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2/neu negative).
This information helps the doctor decide which treatments will work best for your cancer.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
- The of the cancer (the size of the tumor and whether it is in the breast only or has spread to lymph nodes or other places in the body).
- The type of breast cancer.
- Estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor levels in the tumor tissue.
- Human epidermal growth factor type 2 receptor (HER2/neu) levels in the tumor tissue.
- Whether the tumor tissue is triple negative (cells that do not have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, or high levels of HER2/neu).
- How fast the tumor is growing.
- How likely the tumor is to recur (come back).
- A woman’s age, general health, and menopausal status (whether a woman is still having ).
- Whether the cancer has just been or has recurred (come back).