Breast cancer can occur in both men and women.

As with cancers in other parts of the body, breast cancer starts when abnormal cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. The cells usually form a “lump” that can be seen on x-rays or felt by the patient or physician. These tumors can invade locally or spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women.

It’s also important to remember that not all breast lumps are cancer. Some do not spread outside the breast (benign) and are not life-threatening. However, all breast lumps or other changes in the breast need to be checked by a health care practitioner.

Breast cancer can spread (metastasize) when tumor cells get into the blood or lymphatic system. and are carried to other parts of the body. When spread by the lymphatic system, the cells first spread to the regional lymph nodes.

Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. After lung cancer, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Death rates from breast cancer have dropped significantly in the last 20 years. This is undoubtedly the result of finding breast cancer earlier through screening and awareness, and more improved treatment, especially in the last 10 years.

It’s extremely important for a person to know how their breasts normally look and feel in order to detect changes. Finding breast cancer as early as possible, before symptoms appear, gives a person a better chance of successful treatment. Self-awareness does not take the place of having regular mammography and other screening tests.

Symptoms of breast cancer include swelling of all or part of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction (turning inward), nipple discharge, and redness, scaling or thickening of the nipple or breast skin. Breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone. It can cause a lump or swelling even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.

Breast cancer is one of the most extensively researched cancers in medical centers throughout the world. Areas of research include causes, reducing risk, new laboratory and imaging tests and breast cancer treatment.

Some of the newer tests for detecting breast cancer are tests for circulating tumor cells (CTCs), as well as scintimammography (molecular breast imaging). In this test a slightly radioactive drug called a tracer is injected into a vein. The tracer attaches to breast cancer cells detected by a special camera. This study is still in its infancy.

There are many types of medical and surgical treatment. Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy or partial mastectomy) can be used for early-stage cancers. For larger tumors, mastectomy might be needed; newer methods include combining cancer chemotherapy with plastic surgery techniques. Medical treatment includes both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Since there are many different types of breast cancer, consulting with an expert in breast cancer will determine the individual therapeutic choices that are available.