Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Most women who develop breast cancer do not have known risk factors, but some factors may increase the chance of developing this disease. One of these risk factors is age — more than 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50. Other factors include:
Breast tumors are typically, but not always, painless, so it is important to have any breast or underarm lump checked. Swelling, discoloration, thickening of the skin or nipple discharge also should be checked immediately.
The breast is made up of ducts and lobules surrounded by fatty tissue.
Studies have shown that women with early-stage breast cancer who have a lumpectomy to remove the cancer followed by radiation live just as long as women who have a mastectomy and may be preferred by many women. The standard of care after breast-conserving surgery is external beam radiation therapy. Often, this follows chemotherapy.
External beam radiation therapy involves a series of daily outpatient treatments to accurately deliver radiation to the breast.
Doctors are studying ways to deliver radiation to only part of the breast.
In cases where the breast is surgically removed, your doctor may suggest radiation therapy for the chest wall and nearby lymph node areas.
Whether or not radiation therapy should be used after removal of the breast depends on several factors, including the number of lymph nodes involved, tumor size and surgical margins.