Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without normal control. Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. Breast cancer knows no boundaries – be it age, gender, socio-economic status or geographic location. But there is hope. Thanks to heightened awareness, early detection, improved treatment methods and increased access to breast health services, people have a greater chance of survival than ever before.

Making sense of the ever-changing world of breast cancer can be very overwhelming though. The Understanding Breast Cancer section of komen.org is your one-stop resource for the latest information on breast cancer risk factors, early detection and screening, diagnosis, treatment and support. You can also find information on integrative and complementary therapies, life after treatment, quality of care and much more.

The Understanding Breast Cancer section was co-developed with Harvard Medical School faculty and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center staff.

Genetics

Scientists have found two specific genes that are important in the development of breast cancer. They are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Every woman has these genes, but some women have inherited a mutated form of one or both genes. Inheriting a mutated form of BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. However, not all breast cancers are due to inherited mutations. Inherited gene mutations, including mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for only about 5 to 10 percent of all cases of breast cancer, while most breast cancers are due to spontaneous gene mutations.

Genetic testing is offered to those who would like to find out if their family history of breast cancer may be increased because they carry a gene mutation. A genetic counselor or physician will be able to offer advice, counseling and services.

For more information about genetic testing, please go to the National Cancer Institute Website or call 1.800.4CANCER. If you would like to find a genetic counselor in your area, please refer to the Cancer Genetics Services Directory.

Atlanta Area Genetic Counselors
Emory University
Cancer Genetics Program
404-778-1900

Northside Hospital
Hereditary Cancer Program
404-851-6284

Piedmont Hospital
Clinical Genetics Department
(404) 605-2782

Diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed, you can contact the Atlanta Affiliate to receive a Recently Diagnosed Packet. The information includes a booklet on “Questions to Ask the Doctor” and information on surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Call (404) 814-0052 to have a packet mailed to you.

Benign Breast Changes

If you have found a new breast lump, do not panic. Have the lump or abnormality checked by a health care provider. Even if you have cysts or fibroadenoma, do not assume that a new lump will be the same.

Benign breast conditions are non-cancerous conditions of the breast that can result in lumps or abnormalities. A radiologist usually will be able to tell the difference between a benign breast lump and a cancerous breast lump on the mammography film.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is the most aggressive form of breast cancer. It is called inflammatory breast cancer because its main symptoms are swelling and redness of the breast. It is a less common form of invasive ductal cancer. Unlike other forms of breast cancer, IBC often lacks a distinct lump or tumor. Instead, it grows in nests or sheets that spread through the breast. Read more information about Inflammatory Breast Cancer and to see a list of symptoms.

Diagnostic Procedures

There are many types of diagnostic procedures to determine if a lump or abnormality is breast cancer.

Diagnostic Mammogram
A diagnostic mammogram may be ordered by a radiologist after an initial mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is used to evaluate a woman with a breast problem/symptom or an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram. The diagnostic mammogram will be focused on the areas where there appeared to be abnormal tissue. It should be performed under the direct, on-site supervision of a board certified radiologist.

Biopsies
There are different types of biopsies depending on what you and your doctor decide and depending on the nature and location of the abnormality. There are two types of biopsies, the needle biopsy and the surgical biopsy. To find out more information about the types of biopsies and the procedures of each, please click on the following link to read more about a biopsy.

Mammography Resources

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has developed an online guide to search for certified mammography facility. Mammography facilities are rated on certain criteria and updated weekly on the FDA website. To search for a certified mammography facility, click here.

Treatment

There are many different treatment options depending on the type of breast cancer and the stage of the disease when it is diagnosed. Treatment usually consists of some combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy.

Surgery

There are basically two types of breast surgery: breast conserving surgery and mastectomy. For facts about surgical treatment of breast cancer, please click on the following link.

Radiation

Radiation is a high energy targeted x-ray that is used to stop the spread of cancer cells. Radiation therapy is almost always used with surgery. For more information about what radiation therapy is, what to expect before and after treatment, please click on the following link.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is an option for many types of breast cancer. Chemotherapy can be given before of after surgery. To learn more about types of chemotherapy drugs and the cycles in which they are given, please click on the following link.

Visit Komen’s Breast Cancer News website for the latest information about breast cancer treatments. Information is updated often with new breakthroughs, study results and interesting information coming from the field of breast cancer.

Nutrition & Healthy Living

While there is no sure way for a woman to avoid breast cancer, a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk for breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other cancers. It is important to make health lifestyle choices. All women should try to:

  • Be physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Cut down on “bad” fats (saturated and trans fat) and try to eat more “good” fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, like canola or olive oil)
  • Limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day
  • Choose to breast feed your child instead of using formula

It is never too late to begin leading a healthy lifestyle. Choosing to become physically active, eating better and healthier has both positive physical and mental benefits.