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Breast Cancer

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States.  It starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on imaging such as mammogram or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women. There are 240,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women each year and while deaths from breast cancer have declined, it remains to be the second leading cause of cancer death among women.


Types of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is described based on the type of cells involved and the extent of the disease. Invasive or infiltrating cancers have spread (invaded) into the surrounding breast tissue while metastatic breast cancer has spread to distant sites in the body.

Invasive ductal carcinoma


Invasive lobular carcinoma


Triple-negative breast cancer


Inflammatory breast cancer


Paget's disease of the breast


Metastatic breast cancer


Recurrent breast cancer


Non-Invasive Breast Cancers

Also called in situ breast cancers, non-invasive breast cancers have not yet become malignant or invaded into surrounding tissue.  If not treated, non-invasive breast cancers have a high risk of becoming invasive or malignant.

Ductal carcinoma in situ


Lobular carcinoma in situ


  • Changes in the breast size or shape
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • New lump in the breast or armpit
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Pain in any area of the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Redness or flaky sink in the nipple area or breast
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast

Risk Factors

Our genes, lifestyle, and the environment around us work together to increase or decrease our risk of getting cancer.

  • Aging
  • Being overweight after Click to closemenopauseA point in time 12 months after a woman's last period. This transitional period begins between ages 45 and 55.menopause
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Exposure to the drug Click to closediethylstilbestrolBetween 1940 and 1971, DES was given the some pregnant women to prevent miscarriage and premature labor. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant have an increased risk of cervical cell abnormalities. diethylstilbestrol—>given to some pregnant women in the U.S. between 1940–1971 to prevent miscarriage
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Genetic mutations
  • Not being physically active
  • Personal history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast disease
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy
  • Reproductive history including early age at onset of periods, later age at menopause or not having pregnancies
  • Use of certain types of hormones

Reducing Risk of Breast Cancer

Mammograms can detect breast cancer early, possibly before it has spread.

  • Being physically active
  • Breastfeeding your children
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Learning about the risk of taking various hormone replacements or oral contraceptives
  • Learning about your family’s history with breast cancer
  • Not drinking alcohol or drinking in moderation

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Last Updated: September 12, 2023
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