Article | October 2019

Español

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women.1

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.

Causes

The causes of breast cancer 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.

Symptoms

  • Change in way the breast feels: The most common symptom is a painless lump or thickening of the breast.
  • Change in the way the breast looks: skin change, or 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).

Diagnosis and screenings

  • 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.

Treatment

Treatment options are based on:

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

Breast cancer is usually treated with 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
1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2019. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2019.