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Breast Cancer Overview

The body is made up of various kinds of cells, which normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. Cancer is a group of diseases – more than 100 types – that occur when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order.

What is a tumor?

Cancer disrupts the process of natural cell growth, sometimes leading to a mass of unneccesary tissue. This is called a tumor, and it can be benign or malignant.

  • Benign:

    • Is not cancer

    • Can usually be removed

    • Is rarely a threat to life

    • Does not come back in most cases

    • Does not spread to other parts of the body, and the cells do not invade other tissues

  • Malignant:

    • Is cancer

    • May be a threat to life

    • Often can be removed, but sometimes grows back

    • Can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs

    • May metastasize – when cancer cells break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system to form secondary tumors in other parts of the body

What are the different types of breast cancer?

When breast cancer metastasizes, or spreads outside the breast, cancer cells are often found in the lymph nodes under the arm. If the cancer has reached these nodes, it may mean that cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

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.

Types of breast cancer, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Adenocarcinoma (adenocystic carcinoma)

  • Angiocarcinoma

  • Angiosarcoma

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ

  • Infiltrating (or invasive) ductal carcinoma

  • Infiltrating (or invasive) lobular carcinoma

  • Inflammatory breast cancer

  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (also called lobular neoplasia)

  • Medullary carcinoma

  • Metaplastic carcinoma

  • Mixed tumors

  • Mucinous carcinoma

  • Paget's disease of the nipple

  • Papillary carcinoma

  • Phyllodes tumor (also spelled phylloides)

  • Triple-negative breast cancer

  • Tubular carcinoma

How can I catch breast cancer early?

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is used to detect and diagnose breast disease in women who may have breast problems – such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge.

Mammography cannot prove that an abnormal area is cancer, but if it raises a suspicion of cancer, tissue will be removed for a biopsy. Tissue may be removed by needle or open surgical biopsy and examined under a microscope to determine if it is cancer.

Mammography has been used for about 40 years, and in the past 15 years technical advancements have greatly improved both the technique and results, as well as the comfort level experienced during the procedure. Today, dedicated equipment, used only for breast X-rays, produces studies that are high in quality but low in radiation dose. Radiation risks are considered to be negligible.

Peoples Health recommends the following screening guidelines for early detection of cancer in women who have no symptoms:

  • Age 35-39 – One time to establish a baseline

  • Age 40-74 – At least every two years

  • Age 74+ – Per agreement between physician and patient

Talk to your doctor about your personal breast cancer risk and the screening guidelines that are best for you.


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