Your life. Your breasts. Know your risk.

Change Your Odds

Your risk for breast cancer depends on genetics, lifestyle and other factors. Reduce your risk with proven, personalized guidance for healthy living and prevention.

You’re in The Driver’s Seat

Regular screenings give you the best chance of finding breast cancer early and increasing your chances of successful treatment. We’ll show you how.

In Great Hands

Hormonal or biological therapies, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy - there are more lifesaving treatments to attack breast cancer today than ever before.

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When you detect breast cancer early, you have more treatment options and a better chance for a cure. Here are some methods we recommend for screening.

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Being familiar with the feel and look of your breasts lets you immediately recognize when something is different or does not feel right. Self-exams let you learn what is normal for your breasts, especially as they change through the course of your life.

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A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of your breasts used to find cancer before a lump can be felt. It can also help diagnose other breast problems. There are different clinical recommendations about when is the best time to start getting mammograms, but we suggest women begin getting yearly mammograms after age 40.

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Breast ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the inside of your breasts.  Breast ultrasound is not usually done to screen for breast cancer, but it is often used when a change is seen on a mammogram or a change is felt but does not show up on a mammogram. 

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful tool for detecting breast cancers that mammography and ultrasound may miss. Because it can help measure the size of the cancer and look for other tumors, it may also be useful in planning the best treatment for women newly diagnosed with the disease.

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When a screening finds an abnormal lump or mass that could be cancer, a biopsy may be performed. This involves removing a small piece of tissue from the breast, either with a needle or during surgery, and checking it in a lab to see if cancer is present. A biopsy can also reveal details about the cancer that guide treatment decisions.

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There are many advanced therapies that can be combined and coordinated to treat breast cancer based on an individual’s needs.

Some cancer cells may remain after a tumor is removed by surgery. Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells left behind or keep them from growing. The type of radiation therapy given depends on the type and stage of cancer being treated.

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Given by mouth, infusion or injection, chemotherapy drugs either kill cancer cells or stop the cells from growing and spreading in the body. If the cancer is advanced and can’t be controlled, chemotherapy may be used to help ease symptoms and improve one’s quality of life.

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Certain cancer cells are affected by hormones, which help the cancer cells grow and spread. For some types of cancer, hormone therapy is used to stop hormones from getting to the tumor. Recent research shows these drugs are effective in helping prevent breast cancer among women at high risk.

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This therapy uses drugs to attack cancer cells based on their biological features that help them grow, divide and spread. Sometimes called targeted therapies, these drugs preferentially target cancer cells rather than attacking all fast-growing cells the way chemotherapy drugs do.

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Your risk for breast cancer depends on a combination of factors, including:

  • Increasing age
  • Family or personal history of breast cancer
  • Inherited genetic mutations
  • Diet and obesity
  • Lifestyle habits

Your care team can identify your risk factors so you take the right actions to help reduce your risk.

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Nearly all women with breast cancer have surgery as part of their cancer treatment. It’s done to remove as much of your cancer as possible and give you the best chance of becoming cancer-free.

Also called breast-conserving surgery, a lumpectomy keeps the breast intact. During this procedure, the surgeon removes only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue. He or she may also remove some of the lymph nodes under the arm to see if the cancer has spread.

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Mastectomy is surgery to remove the whole breast and may be the best option depending on the type of cancer. A mastectomy can be done in several ways, and your surgeon will talk with you about which option they recommend for you.

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This is additional surgery to rebuild the look and shape of the breast after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Deciding whether to restore the breast can be a difficult decision. Your care team can provide guidance about available options and what to expect.

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The most common warning sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast or under the arm. Some other signs to be aware of include:

  • Swelling or abnormal thickening of the breast
  • Scaly or dimpling breast skin
  • Pain, discharge or retraction of the nipple

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Emotional support is an important part of your treatment. Support groups and community resources can help you and your loved ones get through your treatment and recovery.

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Inform yourself to make the best choices for your health and care with UW Medicine patient education resources.

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Condition Spotlight

Common breast lumps

Overview

There are many types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps. Two of the most common causes of benign single breast lumps are cysts and fibroadenomas. In addition, there are several other conditions that can present as lumps, such as fat necrosis and sclerosing adenosis.

Symptoms

Be vigilant. Signs you should see a doctor include: If you notice a new lump, an area of your breast is noticeably different than the rest, a lump does not go away after menstruation, a lump changes or grows larger, unexplained bruising or redness, an inverted nipple or bloody discharge from the nipple.

Risk factors

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of benign breast conditions include menopausal hormone therapy (postmenopausal hormone use), a family history of breast cancer or benign breast conditions.Causes include breast cysts, milk cysts, fibrocystic breasts, fibroadenoma, hamartoma, intraductal papilloma, mastitis and injury.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam of the breasts, and if a cause cannot be identified, he or she may order additional tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, fine-needle aspiration or biopsy.

Treatment

Not all benign breast lumps will need treatment. If you have a breast infection, antibiotics will likely be prescribed. Cysts will usually go away after they’re drained.

Complications

Most benign breast conditions do not increase your risk of cancer, but certain types of breast lumps do. If you have a condition that increases your cancer risk, more frequent breast exams and tests over the next two years may be recommended.

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