With ongoing advances in treatment, women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are leading longer, fuller and healthier lives than ever before.

Treatments have become less invasive, more targeted and precise, sparing as much breast tissue as possible depending on the stage and type of cancer. The stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed is a key factor in creating individual treatment plans for each patient.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in your breast cells. This malignancy is a group of cancer cells which can grow into your surrounding tissues (invade) or spread to distant areas of the body (metastasize).

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Change(s) in how the breast or nipple feels:

  • Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
  • A breast lump (It’s important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional and that not all lumps are cancerous)
  • A change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast (some women describe this as being similar to the texture of an orange peel)

Change(s) in the breast or nipple appearance:

  • Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling anywhere on the breast
  • Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if on one side only)
  • Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only)
  • Recent asymmetry of the breasts
  • Nipple turned slightly inward or inverted
  • Breast skin, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges

Any nipple discharge—particularly bloody or clear discharge should be examined by a physician. A milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by her doctor as well, although it is not linked with breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risks

Major risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Gender
  • Aging 
  • If you've already had breast cancer before
  • Diagnosis of atypical cells on a previous biopsy
  • Increased breast density revealed on a mammogram
  • If you have a mother, sister or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause
  • Early menstruation, no pregnancies, late menopause, and estrogen replacement therapy
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol, tobacco, or environmental substances(such as asbestos, radon and overexposure to ultraviolet rays) intake

Women with a genetic mutation of BRCA1 or BRCA 2 are at much greater risk for developing breast cancer. With genetic testing, you can have a blood test to determine if you carry those genes. However, even if you are a gene carrier, it does not mean you will develop breast cancer. Most women who get breast cancer (85 percent) have no genetic mutations.

In addition to monthly self-breast examinations and annual clinical breast exams by a practitioner, it is equally important for you to have a mammogram screening at the advice of your physician. Your doctor will order a "baseline" mammogram when appropriate, usually starting at age 40 unless you are at high risk. The first or “baseline” mammogram will help your physician with future mammograms to detect any abnormalities. You can reduce any fears or anxiety by keeping routine scheduled mammography appointments.

Washington Cancer Institute treats many types of breast cancer including:

  • DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ or early stage. (This is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. It means cancer has not spread beyond the milk duct where most breast cancers begin.)
  • Locally advanced breast cancer
  • HER2 positive breast cancer
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Breast cancer during pregnancy
  • Paget’s disease
  • Male breast cancer
  • Phyllodes tumors of the breast
  • Angiosarcoma of the breast

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