Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is cancer that begins in the tissues of the breast. It could happen in one or both breasts. Like other forms of cancer, breast cancer begins when cells start growing out of control.  When a person is first diagnosed, they may have many questions about their condition. If you or a family member has recently been diagnosed, get the answers you need below.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer often develops when cells grow abnormally, either from a mutation or other changes in the DNA in breast cells. Some of the key risk factors that increase the chance of developing breast cancer include age; family history of breast cancer in a mother, sister, daughter or close male relative; two or more close relatives with ovarian cancer; known or suspected genetic mutations; and prior radiation of the neck or chest.

How can I lower my risk for breast cancer?

Here are some of the things you can do to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol
  • Refrain from smoking
  • Avoid hormone replacement therapy for menopause
  • Conduct breast self-examinations monthly
  • Get screened regularly, especially if you have a family history of breast cancer or are at a higher risk

When should I begin screening for breast cancer?

Mammograms combined with a clinical breast exam are the best way to find breast cancer earlier, when it is easier to treat. Breast cancer screening is recommended for women aged 40 and older as well as women younger than 40 who have a family history of breast cancer., a breast abnormality or related concern.

What are the first signs of breast cancer?

The most common breast cancer symptoms include:

  • A lump or thickening (a mass, swelling, skin irritation, or distortion) in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • A change in the color or feel of the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple (dimpled, puckered, red, swollen, or scaly)
  • Nipple discharge, erosion, inversion, or tenderness

Other types of breast cancer can may have less common symptoms, including redness, feeling or warmth or inflammation.

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms or are concerned you have breast cancer.

Be sure to get your annual mammogram screening.  Screening tests like mammograms may find cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to work the best. 

When Should I Be Concerned About Breast Pain?

Breast pain or discomfort is common in women. It can occur occasionally or consistently and the intensity of the pain or discomfort can vary. Most often, breast pain or discomfort occurs around a woman’s menstrual cycle but at times may point to a non-cancerous breast condition.

Contact your doctor if you have breast pain or discomfort that continues for more than a couple of weeks, gets worse, or is in just one area of your breast.

What Are the Treatment Options Currently Available?

Our specialists at the Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper are at the leading edge of the advanced and effective treatments for patients diagnosed with any type and stage of breast cancer.

Depending on your type of breast cancer, current treatment may include one, several or all of the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Breast surgery
  • Radiation therapy

What Type of Doctor Should I See if I Think I Have Breast Cancer?

Call your primary care doctor as soon as possible if you have any symptoms or are concerned you may have breast cancer.

Should I Get a Second Opinion?

Getting a second opinion on your breast cancer diagnosis and the treatment options available is always encouraged and supported. There are numerous experts at the Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper you can see for a second opinion, or you may wish to seek a second opinion with a provider outside of MD Anderson at Cooper.

Getting a second opinion may confirm or contradict your original diagnosis. It may also help you better understand your condition and treatment options.

Should I Consider Participating in a Clinical Trial?

Researchers at the Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper are at the forefront of breast cancer research. Along with the renowned expertise of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, our researchers lead and participate clinical trials to test potential new treatments for cancer.

You may be eligible to take part in a clinical trial. If you are interested, be sure to talk to your doctor and healthcare providers about any clinical trials that may be right for you.

What are the different surgical options for breast cancer?

The surgical options for breast cancer include breast-conserving procedures (lumpectomy and partial mastectomy) that aim to remove the cancer and surrounding tissue, as well as full mastectomy, which involves the removal or one or both breasts. 

The decision to perform mastectomy vs. lumpectomy is based on various factors including breast size, the amount of cancerous tissue, biologic aggressiveness of a breast cancer and other factors.

What is breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction recreates all or part of a breast that surgeons have removed to treat breast cancer or reduce the risk of breast cancer. The goal of reconstruction is to make breasts look and feel as natural as possible. Deciding to have breast reconstruction following mastectomy (breast removal) is a personal choice. At MD Anderson at Cooper our breast reconstruction surgeons are important members of our breast cancer team and work closely with their breast surgery colleagues.