What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer usually develops in glands that make milk, called lobules, or in the milk ducts. Ductal or lobular cancer happens when abnormal cells grow together and form masses called tumors.
There are two types of breast cancer, invasive and non-invasive. In invasive breast cancer, abnormal cells in the ducts or lobules spread through the bloodstream or lymph system to surrounding tissue and eventually other parts of the body, either early or late in the disease. Non-invasive breast cancer cells are contained to the area where they develop. They are sometimes called precancerous cells, but they can develop into invasive breast cancer cells.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for breast cancer patients and the diagnosis, treatment and management of breast cancers. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump in the breast
- A rash around the nipple
- Appearance, shape and size of the nipple changes
- Breast tissue thickens
- Discharge from the nipple
- Pain in the breast
- Pain or swelling in the armpit
- Skin on the nipple may flake, peel or scale
Causes of Breast Cancer
The primary cause of breast cancer is unknown. Lifestyle factors that can lead to the development of breast cancer include:
- Drinking alcohol
- Radiation exposure
Risk factors for developing breast cancer include:
Age: Women age 50 and older are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.
Breast density: Women with dense breast tissue face a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
Estrogen: Women who started periods before age 12 or entered menopause after age 50 are at higher risk for developing breast cancer due to longer exposure to estrogen.
Genetics: Carrying the genes BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53, or having close family members who had breast or ovarian cancer, increases the risk for breast cancer.
History of breast cancer: Previously having breast cancer, even if it was non-invasive, increases the risk of the cancer returning.
Hormone replacement therapy: Women who receive estrogen, with or without male hormones, are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
To diagnose breast cancer, a physician will examine both breasts to see if there are lumps, a change in breast shape or other abnormalities. The physician will also ask about symptoms and family medical history. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Breast cancer scans and diagnostic procedures can include:
Biopsy: In this procedure, a thin needle is used to remove a small amount of breast tissue that will be tested in a laboratory to see if the tissue is cancerous.
Mammogram: During this procedure, X-rays are taken of the breasts and surrounding areas. They can show the location, size and shape of a tumor.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce pictures of the breasts to see if cancer is present and determine the size of the tumor.
Breast ultrasound: An ultrasound device allows a physician to view scans of the breasts to look for a lump or abnormality.
The steps after a breast cancer diagnosis can be difficult, but treatment options are available. For more information on the procedures above, please visit our Imaging & Diagnostics exam pages.
Breast Cancer Prevention
In most cases, breast cancer cannot be prevented, but lifestyle changes and breast cancer scans may lower some risk factors. Suggested lifestyle changes for breast cancer prevention include:
- Breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed and do not smoke face a lower risk of getting breast cancer.
- Eat healthy foods and exercise: Eating lower-fat foods and exercising can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Estrogen-blocking drugs: Women at high risk for breast cancer may be prescribed medication that blocks estrogen production to lower the risk of breast cancer, but they can raise the risk of uterine cancer.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking is linked to breast cancer.
- Limit use of alcohol: To lower the risk of getting breast cancer, have no more than one alcoholic drink a day.
- Limit use of hormone therapy: Limit hormone therapy for menopause symptoms to the lowest dose and shortest duration possible.
- Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight: Aim for a body mass index no higher than 25 to avoid development of breast cancer.
- Preventive surgery: Women who face a very high risk of breast cancer may opt for preventive surgery to avoid getting the disease.
- Self-examinations: Check breasts monthly. If something feels abnormal, see a physician for a diagnosis.
Breast Cancer Prognosis
The prognosis for breast cancer depends upon how early the disease is diagnosed, the size and location of the tumor, and if it has spread. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.
Next Steps with MyChart
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