What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells in the breast. Sometimes the cells of either the passages that
drain milk (ducts) or the milk-producing glands (lobules) lose the control systems for growth which can result in the
development of malignant tumors that can invade nearby healthy breast tissue over time. For some patients, the cancer
may progress and spread to the lymph nodes under the arm and eventually may invade other parts of the body.
Breast cancer is caused by a mutation in the genetic makeup of the breast cells, which may lead to uncontrolled growth. These
genetic mutations usually are a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.
U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics
- About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.1
- For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.2
- About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer.
- About 5-10% of breast cancer is caused by a genetic abnormality inherited from your parents.3
Breast cancer is more than one disease. There are various types of genetic differences within a tumor. If it is determined
that you have breast cancer, it is extremely important to take the time at the beginning to get a comprehensive diagnosis
because the unique biology of your individual tumor will help you and your doctor develop a treatment plan specifically
Types of Breast Cancer
Based on where your cancer begins and how it spreads, your cancer will be characterized according to different types and
Although there are many types of breast cancer, below is a breakdown of some of the common types:
DCIS is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer that starts in the milk
ducts and has not yet spread into any normal tissue (Stage 0).
LCIS is an area in
the milk-producing glands (lobules) of abnormal cell growth that indicates a person has a higher risk of invasive breast
cancer in the future (Stage 0).
IDC accounts for 80 percent of breast cancers and
refers to cancer that started in the milk duct and has invaded nearby breast tissue (Stages I-IV).
Recurrent and metastatic refers to breast cancer that has returned after temporarily successful treatment
or cancer that has spread beyond the breast and into other parts of the body.
How are You Diagnosed?
There are a number of tests that are used to determine whether a patient has developed breast cancer:
- Screening tests, such as annual mammograms,
are usually given to people who are not suspected of having breast cancer in order to detect the cancer early and
begin treatment as soon as possible.
- Diagnostic tests, such as biopsies,
are usually given to people who are experiencing symptoms or people who received unusual screening test results.
Some diagnostic tests can also gather more information about the cancer to guide decisions about treatment.
Defining Your Healthcare Team
Breast cancer is best treated by a team of healthcare professionals, each with their own expertise and specific role
in your treatment process.
Your healthcare team is your advocate and there to answer any questions you may have. Below is a list of some of the medical
professionals you may encounter during your treatment.
- Primary care physician – Often serves as your first point of contact for medical issues and continues
to track your overall health throughout your treatment.
- Oncologist – Oversees your healthcare team during diagnosis and treatment, and manages your potential
chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and/or targeted treatment regimens.
- Radiologist – Identifies and monitors your cancer through medical imaging.
- Pathologist – Studies cells to determine the specifics of your cancer stage and grade.
- Surgeon – Performs necessary operations related to your cancer.
- Reconstructive plastic surgeon – Rebuilds breast after surgeries like a mastectomy (often called breast
- Radiation oncologist – Specializes in treating your cancer through radiation.
- Navigator – Educator and patient advocate who coordinates treatment and follows you from diagnosis
to after treatment.
- Physician assistant – With physician supervision, supports your basic care as well as performs more
comprehensive medical duties and procedures.
- Nurse practitioner/Nurse – Provides personalized care and quality of life education during your treatment.
- Psychiatrist/Psychologist – Helps you navigate your emotional issues and personal challenges during
your diagnosis and treatment.
Remember, YOU are the most important member of your healthcare team. Ask questions to ensure you're comfortable with the treatment options proposed by your team. Start out by getting to know these people and understand their important role in your care and treatment.
Breastcancer.org to learn more about the different types of breast cancer and tests for screening and diagnosis.
1. What are the key statistics about breast cancer?
2. What are the key statistics about breast cancer in men?
3. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics