Breast Cancer

Know More: Breast Cancer

Trustworthy information, straight from the source. Education is the first step in an empowering healthcare plan. Learn more about breast cancer from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.

Cancer consultation between patient and doctor

Condition Overview

Breast Cancer in Women

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer starts in the tissue or ducts of the breast. Breast cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lung and brain.

What increases my risk for breast cancer?

  • First monthly period before age 11 or continuing after age 54.
  • First pregnancy after the age of 40.
  • Long-term use of hormonal birth control or female hormones.
  • Not breastfeeding, or breastfeeding for only a short time.
  • Family history of breast cancer.
  • Large amounts of high-fat foods.
  • Overweight or obesity, or lack of physical activity.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • Smoking cigarettes.

Breast Cancer in Men

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer starts in the tissue or ducts of the breast. Breast cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lung, and brain. You may feel uncomfortable about talking to your healthcare provider if you notice changes or problems in your breasts but it is important to have changes and problems checked. Breast cancer is less common in men than in women, but men can get breast cancer. Breast cancer found early is easier to treat.

What increases my risk for breast cancer?

  • You are 65 years of age or older.
  • Klinefelter syndrome.
  • Estrogen treatment.
  • Exposure to radiation, such as from cancer treatment in your chest.
  • Family history of breast cancer.
  • Large amounts of high-fat foods.
  • Overweight or obesity, or lack of physical activity.
  • Smoking cigarettes, heavy alcohol use or liver disease such as cirrhosis.
  • Certain testicle problems, such as a testicle that did not descend, or surgical removal of one or both testicles.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

  • Swelling or a lump in your breast.
  • Bleeding or clear discharge from your nipple.
  • Aching or soreness of your breast.
  • Skin that is dimpled like an orange peel.
  • Nipple that looks like it has been pushed in.
  • Sudden red skin on your breast.
  • Swollen lymph nodes under your arm.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will feel for lumps in your breast. You will also have a mammogram. This is an X-ray of your breasts, and can help find lumps that are too small to feel during a breast exam. You may need the following tests:

  • Ultrasound or MRI: An ultrasound or MRI may show cysts (fluid-filled pockets) or tumors in your breast. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tumors show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure used to remove part or all of the tumor. The tissue is tested for cancer, the type of cancer it is and if it responds to hormones.

How is breast cancer treated?

  • Hormone Medicine: Hormone medicine may be used if the cancer is sensitive to hormones.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-ray beams to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy Medicines: Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. You may receive one medicine or a combination of medicines.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy finds markers on some cancer cells and kills the cells.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be used to remove the tumor.

Preparing for Care

What can I do to manage my breast cancer?

  • Do monthly breast self-exams. Check your breasts for lumps and other changes every month. Contact your oncologist if you notice any breast changes. Ask for more information about how to do breast self-exams.
  • Have mammograms as directed. You may need a mammogram every six to 12 months.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.
  • Exercise as directed. Ask your oncologist about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise may help to decrease the side effects of treatment, such as nausea, vomiting and weakness. It may also help improve your mood. Stop exercising if you feel pain in your chest, have trouble breathing or feel dizzy. Do not exercise if you have a fever or if you had anticancer medicines through an IV in the last 24 hours.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage your breast cancer. Smoking also increases your risk for new or returning cancer and delays healing after treatment. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Your oncologist may tell you to limit or not drink alcohol. Alcohol may increase the risk that your breast cancer will come back. Limit alcohol to one drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded or short of breath.

When should I contact my oncologist?

  • You have a fever.
  • Any new or different pain in your body.
  • You are vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.
  • You are depressed or feel that you cannot cope with your illness.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

More Information about Breast Cancer

How Complementary Therapies Ease Cancer Treatment Symptoms

What You Need to Know About Mammograms

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