Breast Cancer Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Article | October 2019

Breast Cancer Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Breast cancer affects the lives of many. Find out more about its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is when abnormal cells grow in 1 or both breasts and develop a mass called a malignant tumor. Those cancer cells can then spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, after skin cancer—1 in 8 American women will develop breast cancer (12 percent risk rate1). Currently, there is no way to prevent breast cancer.

What are the causes of breast cancer?

Breast cancer causes are unknown, but there are some risk factors (such as being overweight and lack of physical activity) that may increase the chances of getting breast cancer. However, these risk factors are not always the best indicator of whether someone will get the disease.

What are some common breast cancer symptoms?

  • Change in way the breast feels: The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump or thickening of the breast.
  • Change in the way the breast looks: Skin may look different, or you may see a change in size or shape.
  • Change in the nipple: It may turn in or the skin around it becomes scaly.
  • Fluid comes out of the nipple (other than breast milk).

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

The following types of breast cancer screening can help doctors diagnose breast cancer:

  • You can sometimes detect lumps through breast self-exams.
  • Your primary care doctor can check for lumps during your physical exams.
  • Your doctor can also refer you to get a mammogram—an x-ray of the breast that can find smaller lumps that may be undetectable by touch. If a lump or other change is detected, the doctor will take sample of cells in the breast—this is a biopsy. Results of the biopsy can determine whether cells are cancerous.

What is the treatment for breast cancer?

Breast cancer treatment options are based on:

  • Type and stage of the cancer
  • Chances that the type of treatment will cure the cancer or help
  • Your age
  • Other health problems
  • Feelings about side effects for certain treatments

Treatment for breast cancer often includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy.

More Information

Learn more about breast cancer screening by calling the American Cancer Society at 1 (800) 227-2345 or visiting their website.

Senior woman talking to her doctor