Breast cancer forms in the cells of the breasts. According to the NIH and National Cancer Institute, breast cancer tops the list of most common cancers in 2020 (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers).
Both men and women can be susceptible to breast cancer.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:
- Thickening or lumpiness in the breast that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Dimpling or other changes to the breast
- Nipple discharge or inversion
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of breast skin
- Pitting or redness in the skin of the breast
Breast cancer happens when breast cells begin to grow in an abnormal fashion. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells form a lump or mass. Cells may spread (also known as metastasizing) throughout the breast to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Researchers have discovered a variety of hormonal, environment, and lifestyle risk factors that can impact your risk of breast cancer.
A risk factor is anything that increases the likeliness that you’ll develop breast cancer. However, possessing even several risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll develop breast cancer. Many women who develop breast cancer do not have any other risk factors than simply being women.
Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:
- Being female
- Increasing age
- A medical history, be it personal or family, that includes breast cancer
- Inherited genes that increase cancer risk
- Radiation exposure
- Beginning your period at a younger age
- Beginning menopause at an older age
- Having your first child at an older age
- Having never been pregnant
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy
- Drinking alcohol
How to reduce breast cancer risk for women of an average risk
Breast self-exam — I recommend performing regular self-breast exams to create breast awareness and detect any early abnormalities. Be sure to methodically examine your entire breast. If you find a lump or something new, contact our office immediately.
Clinical breast exams — by myself or your gynecologist.
Try making any of the following changes in your daily life to help reduce your risk.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Exercise most days of the week
- Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Choose a healthy diet
Diagnosing breast cancer
Below are several different tests and procedures that are used to help diagnose breast cancer.
- Annual Breast exam
- Breast ultrasound
- Testing a sample of the breast cells (biopsy)
- Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Staging breast cancer
Once a diagnosis of breast cancer has been made, we then determine the stage of the cancer. Tests and procedures used to stage breast cancer may include:
- Blood tests
- An examination of the other breast for signs of cancer
- Breast MRI
- Bone scan
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Not all women will need all of these tests and procedures. Your physician selects the appropriate tests based on your specific circumstances and taking into account new symptoms you may be experiencing.
The stages of breast cancer range from 0 to IV. Stage 0 indicates that the cancer that is noninvasive or contained within the milk ducts. At stage IV breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer, the cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
The process of determining what stage breast cancer is in takes into account your cancer’s grade; the presence of tumor markers, including receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2; and proliferation factors.
It is an exciting time in medicine as new cancer therapies are being developed. Common treatments for breast cancer include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy drugs and immune therapy drugs.
- Breast cancer surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy drugs
When to see Dr. Guy
If you find a lump or other change in your breast — even if a recent mammogram showed no abnormalities — make an appointment with Dr. Guy.