What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow out of control.

Breast cancer is commonly considered a disease that affects only women. But actually, both men and women can get breast cancer.

What are signs and symptoms?

Signs of breast cancer include changes in the appearance of the breast—such as a change in breast and nipple shape or texture. You also might notice small amounts of fluid coming out of your nipples. Perhaps you feel a mass or lump in your breast or underarm that never goes away.   Sometimes, you can feel the lump, while other lumps can only be found through a mammogram or other diagnostic testing.

If you’re like many people, you’re already probably aware that a lump in your breast can be a sign of breast cancer.

But did you know that most breast lumps are harmless (benign) and not cancer? Whether malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous), having a lump in the breast is not normal. Also, it’s important to understand that having certain kinds of benign lumps in your breasts may actually increase your chances of getting breast cancer.

How is breast cancer treated?

Your doctor will work with you to design a treatment plan based on the kind of breast cancer you have and how many tumors you have.

If your breast cancer is a single tumor or just a few tumors, your doctor may choose local treatment, meaning the treatment targets the area where the tumor is and will not affect the rest of the body. Surgery to remove the tumor(s) and hitting the tumor with radiation are common forms of local treatment.

Local treatment options include:

  • Lumpectomy
  • Mastectomy
  • Partial mastectomy
  • Prophylactic mastectomy

Your doctor will choose systemic therapies, or medications taken by mouth or injected into the bloodstream, if your breast cancer has spread, or stands a good chance of spreading. In these cases, systemic therapy serves the benefit of fighting or preventing breast cancer cells from reaching other parts of the body.

Examples of systemic medication include:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Immunotherapy