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Breast cancer is cancer that develops from breast tissue. Signs of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in breast shape, dimpling of the skin, fluid coming from the nipple, a newly-inverted nipple, or a red or scaly patch of skin. In those with distant spread of the disease, there may be bone pain, swollen lymph nodes, shortness of breath, or yellow skin.
Risk factors for developing breast cancer include being female, obesity, lack of physical exercise, drinking alcohol, hormone replacement therapy during menopause, ionizing radiation, early age at first menstruation, having children late or not at all, older age, prior history of breast cancer, and family history. About 5–10% of cases are due to genes inherited from a person’s parents, including BRCA1 and BRCA2 among others. Breast cancer most commonly develops in cells from the lining of milk ducts and the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers developing from the ducts are known as ductal carcinomas, while those developing from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas. In addition, there are more than 18 other sub-types of breast cancer. Some cancers, such as ductal carcinoma in situ, develop from pre-invasive lesions. The diagnosis of breast cancer is confirmed by taking a biopsy of the concerning lump. Once the diagnosis is made, further tests are done to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast and which treatments are most likely to be effective.
Among the top 4 percent of cancer centers across the country designated by the National Cancer Institute, VCU Massey Cancer Center helps lead and shape America’s cancer research efforts. Massey is also home to breast cancer research that has improved the standard of breast cancer care, including the co-development of partial breast irradiation and other new radiation treatments; pioneering trials that tested administration of chemotherapy before breast surgery (known as neoadjuvant therapy); and global, landmark clinical trials that have changed the practice of breast cancer care such as the KATHERINE , TAILORx and TEXT and SOFT trials.
At VCU Massey Cancer Center, you’ll have access to the most advanced therapies and the latest technologies. Some of these therapies were discovered and developed right here at Massey, where our doctors collaborate closely with our research scientists to bring new research breakthroughs to patients in the form of clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that help the medical community discover new and better ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure diseases. With one of the largest selections of cancer clinical trials in Virginia, Massey gives patients expanded treatment options and new hope every day.
Ask your oncologist if a clinical trial is right for you.
Today more and more people are taking responsibility for their own health. They are quitting smoking, watching what they eat and making other important lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of disease. One of the primary goals of VCU Massey Cancer Center is to educate people about what they can do to reduce their risk of cancer — and to educate them on the importance of cancer screening tests and warning signs.
Generally, the National Cancer Institute recommends cancer-related exams every three years for those who are 20 to 40 years old and exams every year for those who are 40 or over.
For more information about the diagnostic tests available for each of the many different types of cancer, search a particular cancer type in the Types of Cancer section of the Massey website.
There are several types of breast cancer, including:
The most common type begins in the lining of the ducts and is called ductal carcinoma.
Another common type, called lobular carcinoma, occurs in the lobules.
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, which also is called “distant” disease.