Information for Patients
Breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lives. No one knows why some women get breast cancer, but there are many risk factors. Risks that you cannot change include
- Age - the risk rises as you get older
- Genes - two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, greatly increase the risk. Women who have family members with breast or ovarian cancer may wish to be tested for the genes.
- Personal factors - beginning periods before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55
Other risks include obesity, using hormone replacement therapy (also called menopausal hormone therapy), taking birth control pills, drinking alcohol, not having children or having your first child after age 35, and having dense breasts.
Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in size or shape of the breast, and discharge from a nipple. Breast self-exams and mammography can help find breast cancer early, when it is most treatable. One possible treatment is surgery. It could be a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. Other treatments include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses substances that attack cancer cells without harming normal cells.
Men can have breast cancer, too, but it is rare.
NIH: National Cancer Institute
Breast cancer Breast cancer is a disease in which certain cells in the breast become abnormal and multiply uncontrollably to form a tumor. Although breast cancer is much more common in women, this form of cancer can also develop in men. In both women and men, the most common form of breast cancer begins in cells lining the milk ducts (ductal cancer). In women, cancer can also develop in the glands that produce milk (lobular cancer). Most men have little or no lobular tissue, so lobular cancer in men is very rare.In its early stages, breast cancer usually does not cause pain and may exhibit no noticeable symptoms. As the cancer progresses, signs and symptoms can include a lump or thickening in or near the breast; a change in the size or shape of the breast; nipple discharge, tenderness, or retraction (turning inward); and skin irritation, dimpling, or scaliness. However, these changes can occur as part of many different conditions. Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that a person definitely has breast cancer.In some cases, cancerous tumors can invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body. If breast cancer spreads, cancerous cells most often appear in the bones, liver, lungs, or brain. Tumors that begin at one site and then spread to other areas of the body are called metastatic cancers.A small percentage of all breast cancers cluster in families. These cancers are described as hereditary and are associated with inherited gene mutations. Hereditary breast cancers tend to develop earlier in life than noninherited (sporadic) cases, and new (primary) tumors are more likely to develop in both breasts.
Li-Fraumeni syndrome Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a rare disorder that greatly increases the risk of developing several types of cancer, particularly in children and young adults.The cancers most often associated with Li-Fraumeni syndrome include breast cancer, a form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma, and cancers of soft tissues (such as muscle) called soft tissue sarcomas. Other cancers commonly seen in this syndrome include brain tumors, cancers of blood-forming tissues (leukemias), and a cancer called adrenocortical carcinoma that affects the outer layer of the adrenal glands (small hormone-producing glands on top of each kidney). Several other types of cancer also occur more frequently in people with Li-Fraumeni syndrome.A very similar condition called Li-Fraumeni-like syndrome shares many of the features of classic Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Both conditions significantly increase the chances of developing multiple cancers beginning in childhood; however, the pattern of specific cancers seen in affected family members is different.