Breast Cancer

Overview

Breast cancer is diagnosed in women in the United States more than any other cancer except skin cancer. Only lung cancer causes more cancer deaths in American women. Deaths from breast cancer have decreased slightly each year between 2013 and 2018. Breast cancer also occurs in men, but the risk is about 100 times smaller.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. Those that most influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. Some women will get breast cancer even without any other apparent risk factors. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get breast cancer.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

  • Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
  • Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.

Risk Factors You Can Change

  • Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
  • Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
  • Reproductive history. Having a first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with higher alcohol consumption.

Research suggests that other factors such as smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer, and changes in other hormones due to night shift working may also increase breast cancer risk.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

  • Symptoms of breast cancer may vary. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. Some warning signs of breast cancer are—
    • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
    • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
    • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
    • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
    • Pulling in/retraction of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
    • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
    • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
    • Pain in any area of the breast.

Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.

If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.

How Breast Cancer is Treated

Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

  • An operation where doctors cuts out cancer tissue.
  • Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
  • Hormonal therapy. Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
  • Biological therapy. Works with your body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
  • Radiation therapy. Using high-energy X-rays to kill the cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy

Douglas County patients with breast cancer who are candidates for radiation therapy have access to state-of-the-art treatment at the Community Cancer Center. The specific course of therapy chosen depends on the cancer stage and individual patient risk factors.

Radiation therapy for breast cancer uses high-energy X-rays, protons or other particles to kill cancer cells. Rapidly growing cells, such as cancer cells, are more susceptible to the effects of radiation therapy than are normal cells. The X-rays or particles are painless and invisible. Radiation therapy for breast cancer may be delivered through:

  • External radiation. A machine delivers radiation from outside the body to the breast. This is the most common type of radiation therapy used for breast cancer.
  • Internal radiation (brachytherapy). After surgery to remove the cancer, a radiation-delivery device is temporarily placed in the breast in the area where the cancer once was. A radioactive source is placed into the device for short periods of time over the course of treatment.

 

Radiation therapy may be used to treat breast cancer at almost every stage. Radiation therapy is an effective way to reduce your risk of breast cancer recurring after surgery. In addition, it is commonly used to ease the symptoms caused by cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic breast cancer).

SAVI Breast Cancer Treatment

Finding cancer at the earliest, most treatable stages not only improves chances for survival, but it also means the availability of more treatment options.  If you have been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, you might be eligible for an advanced form of radiation therapy with the SAVI applicator. SAVI only delivers radiation to the tissue where the cancer is most likely to recur, meaning your treatment can be completed in as little as five days with fewer side effects.

Learn more about SAVI treatment for breast cancer at: