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Breast Cancer

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Definition

Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the tissues of the breast.

There are two main types of breast cancer:

  • Ductal carcinoma starts in the tubes (ducts) that move milk from the breast to the nipple. Most breast cancers are of this type.
  • Lobular carcinoma starts in parts of the breast, called lobules, that produce milk.

In rare cases, breast cancer can start in other areas of the breast.

Many breast cancers are sensitive to the hormone estrogen. This means that estrogen causes the breast cancer tumor to grow. Such cancer is called estrogen receptor positive cancer or ER positive cancer.

Some women have what's called HER2-positive breast cancer. HER2 refers to a gene that helps cells grow, divide, and repair themselves. When cells have too many copies of this gene, cells -- including cancer cells -- grow faster. Experts think that women with HER2-positive breast cancer have a more aggressive disease and a higher risk of recurrence than those who do not have this type.

Symptoms

Early breast cancer usually does not cause symptoms. This is why regular breast exams are important. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Breast lump or lump in the armpit that is hard, has uneven edges, and usually does not hurt
  • Change in the size, shape, or feel of the breast or nipple -- for example, you may have redness, dimpling, or puckering that looks like the skin of an orange
  • Fluid coming from the nipple -- may be bloody, clear to yellow, green, and look like pus

Men get breast cancer, too. Symptoms include breast lump and breast pain and tenderness.

Symptoms of advanced breast cancer may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Breast pain or discomfort
  • Skin ulcers
  • Swelling of one arm (next to breast with cancer)
  • Weight loss
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