About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without normal control. It is a widespread and random disease, striking women and men of all ages and races. Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world today, with about 1.3 million people diagnosed annually. The exact cause of the disease is unknown, and at this time, there is no cure.

But there is HOPE. Thanks to your efforts toward heightened awareness, early detection through screening, improved treatment methods and increased access to breast health services, those diagnosed with breast cancer have a greater chance of survival than ever before.

The global website of Susan G. Komen®, komen.org, offers comprehensive information about breast cancer risk factors, early detection and screening, diagnosis and treatment. Developed in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health, the site offers a one-stop resource for all the latest information on the disease.

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

Due to the increased use of mammography, most women in the United States are diagnosed at an early stage of breast cancer, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography. The most common symptoms of breast cancer are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge.

Warning signs you should be aware of include:

  • A lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or under arm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

If you have any of these symptoms, see your health care provider. In most cases, these changes are not cancer. For example, breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to see your provider. If breast cancer is present, it is best to find it at an early stage, when the cancer is most treatable.

Breast lumps or lumpiness

Many women may find that their breasts feel lumpy. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. For some women, the lumpiness is more pronounced than for others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry.

If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it is probably normal breast tissue. Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast) or that feel like a change are a concern. When this type of lump is found, it may be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition (such as a cyst or fibroadenoma). Learn more about benign breast conditions.

If you are unsure whether you should have a lump checked, it is best to see your provider. Although a lump may be nothing to worry about, you will have the peace of mind that it has been checked.

Nipple discharge

Liquid leaking from your nipple (nipple discharge) can be troubling, but it is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body’s natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed. Signs of a more serious condition, such as breast cancer, include may include discharge that occurs without squeezing the nipple,  that occurs in only one breast, and/or that has blood in it or is clear (not milky).

Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or another condition that needs medical treatment. For these reasons, if you have any nipple discharge, see your health care provider.

Breast Self-Awareness

Fact One:  All women are at risk of getting breast cancer.

You may have heard about other risk factors, such as having someone in your family with breast cancer or having an inherited breast cancer gene mutation.  But the truth is:  MOST women with breast cancer don’t have these or other risk factors.  Their only risks are being a woman and getting older.  That’s why it’s important to learn what you can do.

What can I do?

  1. Know your risk.  Talk to your family to learn about your family health history.  Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of breast cancer.
  2. Get screened.  Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk.  Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.  Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40.
  3. Know what is normal for you.  Learn how your breasts normally look and feel.
  4. Make healthy lifestyle choices.  Maintain a healthy weight.  Add exercise into your routine.  Limit alcohol intake.

Fact Two:  If you know your risk of breast cancer, you can do things that may reduce your risk.

Risk factors do not cause breast cancer, but they increase the chances that breast cancer may develop.  There are many risk factors linked to breast cancer.  Some of these risk factors increase risk a great deal.  Others increase risk by only a small amount.  Yet, we still don’t know what causes breast cancer to develop.  It’s likely a combination of risk factors, many of which are still unknown.

That is why is it so important that all women know their family medical history and understand their personal risk of breast cancer.

Fact Three:  You can have tests that find breast cancer early.

Mammogram — A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast.  It is the best tool we have today for finding breast cancer early.  It can find breast cancer when it is small and easier to treat.  Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.

Clinical Breast Exam — A clinical breast exam is done by your doctor or nurse in an office or clinic.  He or she will look at and feel your breasts and under your arms to look for breast cancer.  Sometimes breast cancer can be felt, but not seen on a mammogram.  Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40.

Fact Four:  You should talk to your doctor about any changes you notice in your breasts.

The signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.  In fact, some women have no signs that they can see.  If you notice any of these breast changes, see your health care provider right away:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening
  • Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away

Fact Five:  It’s never too late to adopt healthy behaviors.

You can do things that are good for your health and might lower your risk of getting breast cancer.  Maintain a healthy weight, add exercise into your routine, and limit alcohol intake.

 

Genetics

Scientists have found two specific genes that are important in the development of breast cancer. They are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Every woman has these genes, but some women have inherited a mutated form of one or both genes. Inheriting a mutated form of BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. However, not all breast cancers are due to inherited mutations. Inherited gene mutations, including mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for only about 5 to 10 percent of all cases of breast cancer, while most breast cancers are due to spontaneous gene mutations.

Genetic testing is offered to those who would like to find out if their family history of breast cancer may be increased because they carry a gene mutation. A genetic counselor or physician will be able to offer advice, counseling and services.

For more information about genetic testing, please go to the National Cancer Institute Website or call 1.800.4CANCER. If you would like to find a genetic counselor in your area, please refer to the Cancer Genetics Services Directory.

 

Diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed, you can contact the Atlanta Affiliate to receive a Recently Diagnosed Packet. The information includes a booklet on “Questions to Ask the Doctor” and information on surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Call (404) 814-0052 to have a packet mailed to you.

Benign Breast Changes

If you have found a new breast lump, do not panic. Have the lump or abnormality checked by a health care provider. Even if you have cysts or fibroadenoma, do not assume that a new lump will be the same.

Benign breast conditions are non-cancerous conditions of the breast that can result in lumps or abnormalities. A radiologist usually will be able to tell the difference between a benign breast lump and a cancerous breast lump on the mammography film.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is the most aggressive form of breast cancer. It is called inflammatory breast cancer because its main symptoms are swelling and redness of the breast. It is a less common form of invasive ductal cancer. Unlike other forms of breast cancer, IBC often lacks a distinct lump or tumor. Instead, it grows in nests or sheets that spread through the breast. Read more information about Inflammatory Breast Cancer and to see a list of symptoms.

Diagnostic Procedures

There are many types of diagnostic procedures to determine if a lump or abnormality is breast cancer.

Diagnostic Mammogram
A diagnostic mammogram may be ordered by a radiologist after an initial mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is used to evaluate a woman with a breast problem/symptom or an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram. The diagnostic mammogram will be focused on the areas where there appeared to be abnormal tissue. It should be performed under the direct, on-site supervision of a board certified radiologist.

Biopsies

There are different types of biopsies depending on what you and your doctor decide and depending on the nature and location of the abnormality. There are two types of biopsies, the needle biopsy and the surgical biopsy. To find out more information about the types of biopsies and the procedures of each, please click on the following link to read more about a biopsy.

Mammography Resources

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has developed an online guide to search for certified mammography facility. Mammography facilities are rated on certain criteria and updated weekly on the FDA website. To search for a certified mammography facility, click here.

Treatment

There are many different treatment options depending on the type of breast cancer and the stage of the disease when it is diagnosed. Treatment usually consists of some combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy.

Surgery

There are basically two types of breast surgery: breast conserving surgery and mastectomy. For facts about surgical treatment of breast cancer, please click on the following link.

Radiation

Radiation is a high energy targeted x-ray that is used to stop the spread of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is almost always used with surgery. For more information about what radiation therapy is, what to expect before and after treatment, please click on the following link.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is an option for many types of breast cancer. Chemotherapy can be given before of after surgery. To learn more about types of chemotherapy drugs and the cycles in which they are given, please click on the following link.

Visit Komen’s Breast Cancer News website for the latest information about breast cancer treatments. Information is updated often with new breakthroughs, study results and interesting information coming from the field of breast cancer.

Genomic Testing

While genetic tests can help to tell you your risk of getting cancer, genomic tests can help once you have been diagnosed with cancer to optimize and personalize your treatment plan. These tests look at the activity of certain cancer-related genes in your individual tumor, providing valuable information about your unique cancer that is not available from traditional tests and measures, such as the size and grade of your tumor.

There are several tests used to analyze the genes in a breast tumor to help predict whether the breast cancer will come back (recurrence). These include the EndoPredict test, the Mammaprint test, the Mammostrat test, the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score test, the Oncotype DX Breast DCIS Score test, and the Prosigna Breast Cancer Prognostic Gene Signature Assay. All of these tests can be done on a sample of preserved tissue that was removed from the breast during the original biopsy or surgery.

The Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score test is the only genomic test that can be used to predict low likely you are to benefit from chemotherapy, as well as to estimate your risk of recurrence if you have early-stage, hormone receptor- positive breast cancer. In addition, the Oncotype DX test has the most thorough data supporting its use in making treatment decisions. For these reasons, it is included in all major breast cancer treatment guidelines, and is the most common genomic test used in the U.S. to make treatment decisions.

If you are diagnosed with DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, the Oncotype DX Breast DCIS Score test is the only genomic test available to help you find out how likely your disease is to return. This information can then be used to help you choose among several treatment options.

Whichever test you have, you and your doctor will consider your scores in combination with the other information in your pathology report to come up with the best treatment plan for you.

Nutrition and Healthy Living

While there is no sure way for a woman to avoid breast cancer, a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk for breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other cancers. It is important to make health lifestyle choices. All women should try to:

  • Be physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Cut down on “bad” fats (saturated and trans fat) and try to eat more “good” fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, like canola or olive oil)
  • Limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day
  • Choose to breast feed your child instead of using formula

It is never too late to begin leading a healthy lifestyle. Choosing to become physically active, eating better and healthier has both positive physical and mental benefits.

Clinical Trials

If you have breast cancer, we encourage you to consider joining a clinical trial. Clinical trials are studies designed to test the safety and effectiveness of ways to prevent, detect or treat disease. People volunteer to join these studies. Clinical trials offer the chance to try new treatments and possibly benefit from them. Learning a new therapy is better than the standard treatment can also help others. And, as new therapies are developed, they can open doors to other drugs and procedures that may be even more effective.

For more information from the global website at Susan G. Komen about clinical trials and available resources, click here.

For questions to ask your doctor about clinical trials, click here to be redirected to the global website at Susan G. Komen.

If you or someone you know are in need of local resources, please contact one of our local offices.