What Is Breast Cancer?
The term “breast cancer” refers to a malignant tumor that has developed within breast tissue as a result of the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. For U.S. women, this type of cancer surpasses any other in terms of prevalence, with the exception of skin cancer.
Since there is no known cure for breast cancer at this time, early diagnosis is the key to survival. In fact, when breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 98%.*
See answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about breast cancer.
Hear breast cancer stories from real people.
Get and give emotional support by joining a breast cancer support community.
Find out the truth behind some common breast cancer myths.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
Determining what causes breast cancer is a challenge. Although scientists know that cancer results from DNA damage to cells, it is not quite clear why or how that DNA becomes compromised. Some DNA mutations are handed down from generation to generation, while others are acquired through environmental or lifestyle factors. In truth, most people will never know the definitive cause behind their breast cancer diagnosis.
What Are the Types of Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is categorized into various types, including:
- Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS)
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
- Triple negative breast cancer
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Metastatic breast cancer
Once breast cancer is diagnosed, additional tests can help determine if and how far the cancer has spread in a process called staging. The five stages of breast cancer range from Stage 0 to Stage IV and play a large role in determining the appropriate path of treatment.
Learn more about the types of breast cancer.
Learn more about the stages of breast cancer.
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
One of the initial symptoms of breast cancer is changes in the breast. These may include:
- Any change in the appearance of the breast or nipple.
- The presence of lumps, tenderness, or skin thickening.
- Nipple discharge (especially clear or bloody).
- Redness, swelling, or irritation.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
The following tests can be used to detect or confirm abnormalities in the breast that may be of concern:
- Breast self-examination
- Clinical breast exam
- Ultrasound and MRI
- Lab tests
The key to diagnosing breast cancer early is regular breast health screenings. The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers an online tool called the Early Detection Plan®, where users can sign up to receive screening reminder alerts via email or text message, or through an RSS feed.
Learn more about breast cancer diagnostic methods.
Learn how to perform a breast self-exam.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated?
Treatment options for breast cancer depend on a variety of factors, including the type and stage of the disease, your age and health, and whether or not this is your first treatment for cancer. Generally speaking, there are five primary approaches to treating breast cancer:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
A treatment plan may consist of one of the above treatment protocols or a combination of approaches.
Learn more about the latest breast cancer treatments.
What Are the Breast Cancer Risk Factors?
The medical profession has noted certain genetic, environmental, and lifestyle risk factors as being associated with a greater risk of developing breast cancer. These include:
- Age, gender, and race.
- Family or personal history of breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Poor diet and lack of exercise.
- Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
- Early menstruation and/or late menopause.
Learn more about breast cancer risk factors.
Understand your personal breast cancer risk by using the National Cancer Institute risk assessment tool.
Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented?
While there are no guaranteed ways to prevent breast cancer, there are some basic lifestyle guidelines you can follow to potentially limit your risk. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Exercising regularly.
- Limiting intake of alcoholic beverages and tobacco.
- Eating a healthy, plant-based diet.
In addition, you can boost your chances of detecting breast cancer early with regular breast health screenings. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends annual mammograms for women age 40 and older and regular clinical breast exams for all women.
Learn how you can support the efforts of the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Source (unless otherwise noted): National Breast Cancer Foundation, on the Internet at www.nationalbreastcancer.org/ (viewed online September 20, 2012).
*National Cancer Institute, Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results, “SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Breast,” on the Internet at www.seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html (viewed online September 20, 2012).