Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the tissues of the breast. Breast cancer is currently the most common form of cancer other than non-melanoma skin cancer, with new cases diagnosed in more than 250,000 women and men every year in the U.S. Women have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer and, although rare, men can also develop breast cancer. Even though the number of cases of breast cancer has increased slightly over the past several years, early detection, and comprehensive treatment, and research advances have brought the 5-year survival rate to nearly 90% or more, depending on the type of breast cancer and how aggressive it is.
Around the globe, researchers are exploring new and innovative ways to prevent, detect, treat and cure breast cancer. Billions of dollars are spent every year globally on breast cancer research, with $1 billion spent on research in the U.S. alone. Research studies underway at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper involve clinical trials and other studies that focus on better treatments and outcomes for patients with breast cancer.
Breast cancer often develops when cells grow abnormally, either from a mutation or other changes in the DNA in breast cells. Cancer cells tend to grow and multiply faster than normal and healthy cells, which in the case of breast cancer can lead to a lump or other mass that can be seen on an imaging test, like a mammogram, of felt during a breast self-examination. Sometimes these cancerous cells can spread from the breast to other parts of the body.
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.
It is important for women to get screened for breast cancer if symptoms develop or they have one or more of these risk factors. Men should be screened as well if they have a genetic mutation that makes it more likely they may develop breast cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
The following are the most common symptoms of breast cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain and may cause no symptoms at all. And, some breast cancers never cause symptoms or other indications of a problem.
As the cancer grows, however, it can cause changes that women and men should watch for. The most common breast cancer symptoms include, such as:
- A lump or thickening (often a swelling or irritation in the skin) 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
A woman (or man) should consult a physician when any of these changes are noticed. Other types of breast cancer can may have less common symptoms, including redness, feeling or warmth or inflammation. That’s why it is important to consult a physician when you notice any changes in your breasts.
Breast Cancer Treatment
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.
Using the proven treatment plans from our partner, MD Anderson Cancer Center, our specialists provide a personalized treatment approach designed to meet the needs of each individual patient, while providing access to clinical trials and a full range of supportive care services.
Chemotherapy, often called “chemo,” is a common treatment approach for cancer that involves using drugs to aggressively stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. It is a common treatment approach for breast cancer and often used in combination with other treatments – like hormone therapy, radiation or surgery – depending on the type and stage of the cancer.
High estrogen levels in the body cause cancer cells to grow in nearly two in three cases of breast cancer. These cancers are referred to as being hormone-receptor positive (HR-positive or H+). Hormone therapy for HR-positive breast cancer can be used alone or with other treatments to help reduce the chance that the cancer will spread or return.
Surgery is a common treatment for breast cancer, and most patients will have some kind of surgery during treatment. These surgeries can involve removing a lump, lymph nodes, or the breast itself, depending on the type and stage of the cancer. Breast surgery to remains as much of – if not all – of the cancerous tumors and cells.
Radiation therapy is a painless treatment approach to cancer that involves fighting cancer with X-rays, gamma rays and other charged particles. Radiation can be given outside or inside the body to shrink tumors and destroy cancer cells in the breast and surrounding areas, like the armpit, if the cancer has spread.
Types of Breast Cancer
There are many different types of breast cancer, all with their own set of symptoms and treatment options. In general, the kinds of cells involved – like those in milk ducts (ductal), glands (lobular) or those lining organs and tissues – will determine what kind of breast cancer a patient has.
Breast cancer may be invasive or noninvasive. Invasive means it has spread from the milk duct or lobule to other tissues in the breast. Noninvasive means it has not yet invaded other breast tissue. Noninvasive breast cancer is called "in situ."
Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, originating in the lining of the ducts.
Treating ductal carcinoma depends on the size of the tumor, how quickly the cancer is growing, and whether it is invasive. Typical treatments include either surgery that saves the breast (like biopsy) or mastectomy, if the tumor is larger. In some cases, hormone therapy may be recommended after surgery if the cancer is hormone-receptor positive.
Another common type of breast cancer, called lobular carcinoma, occurs in the lobules (milk-producing glands).
Lobular carcinoma is an invasive cancer. The non-invasive form is so early in the process that it is considered a risk factor and not cancer, and treatment like surgery may not be required. The treatment for invasive lobular carcinoma, however, depends on how aggressive the cancer is and its location. Treatment generally includes surgery (either lumpectomy or mastectomy) and hormone therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation are other possible treatments for lobular carcinoma.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Triple negative breast cancers do not have progesterone or estrogen receptors, nor do they have an excess of the HER2 protein on the surface of the cancer cells. This type of breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in young women and African-American women. They are one of the fastest-growing types of breast cancer, most commonly spreading to the lymph nodes in the underarm. When this occurs, it is possible that the cancer has also spread to other areas of the body.
The standard treatment for triple negative breast cancer is chemotherapy. Because of the nature of the cancer (a lack of the HER2 protein), hormone therapy is generally not effective.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive form of invasive breast cancer that accounts for up to 45% of all breast cancer cases and 10% of breast cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Usually there is no lump or tumor detected. Instead, symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may include unique symptoms like tender, red and inflamed skin that may resemble the appearance of an orange peel. The appearance and texture of the skin on the breast may be confused for a rash, making early detection and treatment critical.
The treatment for inflammatory breast cancer depends on how aggressive the cancer is but treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. MD Anderson Cancer Center has led the way in innovative treatments with inflammatory breast cancer, and the Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper draws upon this extensive experience and knowledge to provide the most advanced treatment possible for its patients.
Metastatic Breast Cancer
Cancer that spreads is the same disease and has the same name as the original, or primary cancer. When breast cancer spreads, it is called metastatic breast cancer, even though the secondary tumor is in another organ. This may also be called "distant" disease.
Metastatic breast cancer can spread to many different regions of the body and include different symptoms depending on the area the cancer has spread to. The most common regions where metastatic breast cancer can spread, and their symptoms, include:
Because metastatic breast cancer is a very serious and the most advanced form of cancer, treatment will vary depending on how severe the cancer is and how far the disease has progressed. The treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy.
Paget's disease is a rare form of breast cancer that accounts for up to 4% of all breast cancer cases. The disease begins in the glands in or under the skin, typically appearing first around the nipple and possibly extending to the areola.
The treatment for Paget’s Disease depends on the aggressiveness of the cancer but typically involves surgery (either breast-saving surgery or mastectomy) followed by radiation. If the cancer is invasive, treatment may resemble that of ductal carcinoma and include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.
Metaplastic Breast Cancer
Metaplastic breast cancer is a rare but aggressive form of cancer that accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. The type of cancer often has a triple-negative receptor type and its main symptom is a lump in the breast that grows quickly.
Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, because of its aggressive nature, metaplastic breast cancer tends to be difficult to treat.