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What Is Breast Cancer?

Definition: Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.

Breast cancer usually begins with the formation of a small, confined tumor (lump), or as calcium deposits (micro calcifications) and then spreads through channels within the breast to the lymph nodes or through the blood stream to other organs. The tumor may grow and invade tissue around the breast, such as the skin or chest wall. Different types of breast cancer grow and spread at different rates, some take years to spread beyond the breast while others grow and spread quickly.


  • A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle. This is often the first apparent symptom of breast cancer. Lumps associated with breast cancer are usually painless, although some may cause a prickly sensation. Lumps are usually visible on a mammogram long before they can be seen or felt.
  • Swelling in the armpit.
  • Pain or tenderness in the breast. Although lumps are usually painless, pain or tenderness can be a sign of breast cancer.
  • A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast, which may indicate a tumor that cannot be seen or felt.
  • Any change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast. A reddish, pitted surface like the skin of an orange could be a sign of advanced breast cancer.
  • A change in the nipple, such as a nipple retraction, dimpling, itching, a burning sensation, or ulceration. A scaly rash of the nipple is symptomatic of Paget's disease, which may be associated with an underlying breast cancer.
  • Unusual discharge from the nipple that may be clear, bloody, or another color. It's usually caused by benign conditions but could be due to cancer in some cases.
  • A marble-like area under the skin.
  • An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.


Among the most significant factors are advancing age and a family history of breast cancer. Risk increases for a woman who has certain types of benign breast lumps and increases significantly for a woman who has previously had cancer of the breast or the ovaries.

A woman whose mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease, particularly if more than one first-degree relative has been affected. Researchers have now identified two genes responsible for some instances of familial breast cancer. These genes are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. About one woman in 200 carries the genes. Having one of them predisposes a woman to breast cancer but does not ensure that she will get it.

Generally, women over 50 are more likely to get breast cancer than younger women, and African-American women are more likely than Caucasians to get breast cancer before menopause.


Evista, also called raloxifene, is a medication that's used to reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. It's also used to reduce the risk of spinal fractures related to osteoporosis. It was during studies of the use of Evista to treat osteoporosis that researchers noticed that among post-menopausal women who took the drug there was a lower rate of invasive breast cancer. After additional studies, the FDA approved the use of Evista for prevention of breast cancer.

How it's treated?

  • Surgery is a standard. For smaller tumors, you might get alumpectomy, in which only the abnormal cells and some of the surrounding normal tissue are removed. Some women choose amastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed. After a mastectomy, you might choose to have breast reconstruction surgery. Mastectomy is appropriate if a lumpectomy is unable to remove all of the in-situ cancer.
  • Radiation therapy is standard treatment after a lumpectomy. Radiation therapy attacks any abnormal cells that might have been missed and decreases the risk of cancer reoccurence/
  • Endocrine therapy with tamoxifen after surgery may also help prevent cancer from developing in the same or opposite breast. This is especially true if the tumor is estrogen receptor and/or progesterone receptor positive.
  • Biological therapy. In over 50% of people with DCIS, HER2 is over expressed. Herceptin, a drug which attacks the HER2 oncogene, is currently being studied in clinical trial to treat HER2-positive DCIS.
  • Endocrine therapy with tamoxifen, raloxifene, or examestane to lower the risk of developing cancer.
  • Bilateral mastectomy -- the removal of both breasts. Historically this has been the treatment of choice to prevent breast cancer from developing in either breast. However, with the reducing risk effects of endocrine therapy, experts now think that a bilateral mastectomy is a more extreme approach than women usually need.
  • Chemotherapy is treatment with drugs that attack cancer cells. It's often used after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, or recurring. The presence of endocrine receptor negative disease, or tumors between 10-20 mm may necessitate the need for adjuvant chemotherapy.


The most effective way to screen for breast cancer is by mammography, along with regular breast exams by your health care provider. But medical organizations don't agree on the recommendation for breast self-exams, which is an option for women starting in their 20s. Doctors should discuss the benefits and limitations of breast self-exams with their patients.

Look for dimpling or changes in shape or symmetry. This may be best done by looking in a mirror. The rest of the breast self-exam is easiest in the shower, using soap to smooth your skin. Using light pressure, you should check for lumps near the surface. Use firm pressure to explore deeper tissues. Squeeze each nipple gently; if there is any discharge -- especially if it is bloody -- see your doctor. If your nipple ever changes in position or shape, contact your doctor

Kinds of people that inherit the disease.

  • Age.
  • Family History
  • African-Americans
  • Being Female

Things I learned

I learned that not only women can get it but also sometimes men get it to but it is very rare.


WebMDArticle Title: WebMD Breast Cancer Center: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Genes,

Publisher: WebMD

Date Accessed: March 05, 2015

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