Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women during their lives, and many of us know someone – a mother, sister, friend – who has had it. It is the second-leading cancer killer of women in the United States, next to lung cancer. Thanks to screening, breast cancer often can be found early, when the chance of successful treatment is best. In fact, many women are even cured of the disease.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread to distant areas of the body. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too. The most common type is ductal carcinoma, which arises in the milk ducts.

What causes breast cancer?

The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, however, it is most likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some women who exhibit many of the risk factors of breast cancer never contract it, while some who manifest none of the risk factors may succumb to it.

The two most important risk factors are a woman’s family history and her age. A woman with a blood relative who had breast cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease herself, while women older than 60 have a greater risk than younger women. Other risk factors include: gender, inherited genes, obesity, and alcohol use.

How is breast cancer detected?

Breast cancer can develop for a while without any visible symptoms. As it progresses, the following symptoms may become apparent:
· A lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm
· A change in the size or shape of the breast
· Discharge from the nipple or nipple tenderness
· A change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast or nipple
· A scaly, thickened or inward-turning nipple

See your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Your doctor may order a mammogram, or an X-ray of the breast. It is recommended that women over 50 get a mammogram every two years.

How is breast cancer treated?

The course of treatment depends on the stage of cancer, the woman’s age, and her general health. Treatment options include:
· Lumpectomy, or surgical removal of the tumor
· Partial mastectomy
· Total mastectomy
· Modified radical mastectomy
· Chemotherapy
· Radiation
· Hormonal therapy
· Targeted drugs

What can you do to reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Lifestyle changes have been shown to decrease breast cancer risk even in high-risk women. The following are steps you can take to lower your risk:
· Limit alcohol
· Don’t smoke
· Control your weight
· Be physically active
· Breast-feed
· Limit does and duration of hormone therapy
· Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution

It is also important be vigilant about breast cancer detection. If you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor. Also, ask your doctor when to begin mammograms and other screenings.

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