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Breast Cancer

Advanced treatments, breast conserving therapies, and highly skilled specialists to help beat one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. Both women and men can get breast cancer; however, it is much more common in women. In the United States, about 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the second most common cancer for women in the U.S.

What Are the Most Common Types of Breast Cancer?

  • Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) – Abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast
  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) – Cancer that begins growing in a milk duct and has invaded the fibrous or fatty tissue of the breast outside of the duct
  • Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) – Cancer that starts in the lobules, which make milk in the breast

Learn more about the many types of breast cancer by downloading our patient guide.

What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?

  • A personal history of invasive breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  • A personal history of benign (non-cancer) breast disease
  • A family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister)
  • Breast tissue that is dense on a mammogram
  • Inherited changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes or in other genes that increase the risk of breast cancer
  • Exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made by the body caused by: menstruating at an early age; older age at first birth or never having given birth; or starting menopause at a later age
  • Taking hormones such as estrogen combined with progestin for symptoms of menopause
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Obesity

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • A nipple turned inward into the breast
  • Fluid, other than breast milk, from the nipple, especially if it’s bloody
  • Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple)
  • Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange, called peau d’orange

Why Is Early Detection So Important?

Early detection of breast cancer is vital because a malignant tumor can invade surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Early detection can improve outcomes and treatment options. Erlanger provides a strong focus on early detection through our Breast Imaging (Mammography) program. We also offer Board-Certified Genetic Counseling which provides risk assessment for individuals with personal and/or family histories of cancer to determine the likelihood of an inherited genetic cause for the cancer in their family. 

In addition, our Baroness and East breast imaging locations now offer a quick risk assessment to help determine if you may be at higher risk for certain types of cancers as a result of hereditary risk factors. You simply complete a brief, online questionnaire when you arrive for your mammogram. Learn more.

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Your oncology providers may use the following tests and procedures to detect and diagnose breast cancer:

  • Physical exam and history
  • Mammogram. Call 423-778-MAMO (6266) to schedule.
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE)
  • Ultrasound exam
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Blood chemistry studies
  • Biopsy (tissue sample taken from the body for examination)

What Tests Are Done on the Tumor Tissue?

If cancer is found, the following tests may be done on tissue take from the tumor to determine how fast it may grow, how likely it is to spread, and how certain treatments might work.

  • Receptor Status Tests check for three different “receptors” – proteins that can attach to certain substances in the blood. Your doctor will test for these receptors because there are specific medicines for each. 
  • Advanced Genomic Testing (also called Molecular Profiling) classifies tumors based on this genetic make-up to help our specialists create targeted, patient-specific therapies. LEARN MORE

How Is the Stage of Breast Cancer Determined?

After breast cancer has been diagnosed, staging tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the body. Staging tests include:

  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (Removal of the first lymph node where the cancer is likely to spread)
  • CT Scan (CAT scan)
  • Bone Scan
  • PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography Scan)

Learn more about the stages of breast cancer in our patient guide.

What Are My Treatment Options?

Your options may include one or a combination of the following treatment approaches depending on your unique circumstances. If the tumor is small enough to be safely removed and your lymph nodes are free of cancer cells, you may be a candidate for breast conserving therapy. If your tumor is larger or has spread, you may require a mastectomy and/or removal of more lymph nodes, possibly with radiation after surgery. Our oncology team will help you navigate the best options that may include:

  • Surgery – Most patients have surgery to remove the cancer      
    • Breast Conserving Surgery – Removes the cancer and some normal tissue around it, but not the breast itself. LEARN MORE
    • Total Mastectomy – Removes the whole breast that has cancer
    • Modified Radical Mastectomy – Removes the whole breast that has cancer, many of the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles, and sometimes, part of the chest wall muscles
  • Radiation Therapy – Uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. 
  • Chemotherapy – Uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
  • Hormone Therapy – Removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing.
  • Targeted Therapy – Uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.
  • Clinical Trials – Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process, and can be a treatment choice for many patients. Search our current clinical trials

Patient Resources

  • Mammogram Services – Call 423-778-Mamo (6266) to schedule.
  • Breast Cancer Patient Guide – An in-depth look at all aspects of breast cancer from diagnosis through treatment. Download PDF
  • Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator – Your point-of-contact to navigate seamlessly through the treatment process. Contact Katie Voila, RN, BSN, 423-778-6357
  • Infusion Centers and Services –  Convenient outpatient centers for patients needing intravenous chemotherapy treatments and injections
  • Survivorship Program – Education and support to help you manage issues related to surviving cancer after completing treatment. Contact Shirleen D. Chase, PhD, RN, APRN, NP-C, ACNS-BC, 423-778-8404
  • Breast Cancer Support Group – Monthly meetings that provide support and information. Call 423-778-3253 
  • Clinical Trials – Search our data base of current clinical trial therapies
  • Erlanger Serious Illness Care – Specialized medical care, also known as palliative care, focused on the unique physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of patients living with serious or life threatening illnesses. Visit our Serious Illness Care Webpage or call 423-778-2867

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