Is this topic for you?
This topic is for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. If you are looking for information on breast cancer that has spread or come back after treatment, see the topic Breast Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in one or both breasts. They can invade nearby tissues and form a mass, called a malignant tumor. The cancer cells can spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
Breast cancer is many women’s worst fear. But experts have made great progress in treating cancer. If it is found early, breast cancer can often be cured, and it is not always necessary to remove the breast. Back to Top
What causes breast cancer?
Doctors do not know exactly what causes breast cancer. But some things are known to increase the chance that you will get it. These are called risk factors. The main risk factors for breast cancer include:
Some other things are known to increase your risk, such as being overweight or inactive or drinking alcohol. But many women who have risk factors do not get breast cancer. And many women who get breast cancer do not have any known risk factors. Back to TopWhat are the symptoms?
Breast cancer often causes:
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
During a regular physical exam, your doctor can check your breasts to look for lumps or changes. Depending on your age and risk factors, the doctor may recommend that you have a mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast. A mammogram can often find a lump that is too small to be felt. Sometimes a woman finds a lump during a breast self-exam.
If you or your doctor finds a lump or other change, the doctor will want to take a sample of the cells in your breast. This is called a biopsy. Sometimes the doctor will put a needle into the lump to take out some fluid or tissue (needle biopsy). In other cases, a surgeon may take out the whole lump through a small cut in your breast. The results of the biopsy help your doctor know if you have cancer and what type of cancer it is.
You may have other tests to find out the stage of the cancer. The stage is a way for doctors to describe how far the cancer has spread. Your treatment choices will be based partly on the type and stage of the cancer. Back to Top
How is it treated?
Depending on the stage of your cancer, you may have a choice of:
You and your doctor will decide which mix of treatments is right for you based on many factors. These include facts about your cancer as well as your family history, other health problems, and your feelings about keeping your breast. Learn all you can about breast cancer and its treatment so you can make the choices that are right for you.
Treatments for breast cancer can cause side effects. Your doctor can let you know what problems to expect and help you find ways to manage them.
Finding out that you have breast cancer can cause a range of feelings, from sadness and fear to anger and despair. If your emotions are making it hard for you to move ahead, be sure to tell your doctor. You may be able to get counseling or find a support group. Talking with other people who have faced the same choices can be a big help. Back to Top
Can breast cancer be prevented?
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor about genetic testing. A blood test can check for changes in the BRCA genes that may increase your chance of getting breast cancer. Back to Top