Breast cancer is simply described as cancer that affects the breast area. The cancer can start in either the ducts or the lobules of the breast; however, it can start in other areas of breast tissue as well. If it spreads to the lymph nodes, it can get into your blood stream to affect other parts of your body. While breast cancer mostly affects women, men are vulnerable to breast cancer as well.

Risk Factors and Causes

The risks and causes of breast cancer are often things that cannot be controlled; nevertheless some personal lifestyle choices can contribute to developing cancer.

  • Age: Your chances of developing breast cancer increase three times after the age of 55.
  • Birth Control & Hormone Therapy: Studies have shown that certain types of birth control can cause cancer. Similarly, having hormone therapy after menopause can also increase your risks of breast cancer.
  • Breast Tissue: If your breast tissue is dense, your risk of breast cancer is increased. Dense breast tissue shows up on a mammogram, often occurring in response to menopause and genetics.
  • Family History: If cancer runs in your family, you are at greater risk of getting breast cancer. Having a mother or sister with breast cancer can actually double your risk.
  • Lifestyle: While doctors and scientists cannot definitively say that some lifestyle choices lead directly to breast cancer, making poor choices can increase your risks. Maintain a proper diet, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, and limit alcohol consumption.


  • Swelling of the breast, in whole or in part
  • Irritation/dimpling of the skin around the breast
  • Pain in your breast
  • Retraction or pain in your nipple
  • Thickening, scaling or redness of the breast or nipple
  • Abnormal discharge from the nipple that is not breast milk


Breast cancer can be diagnosed easily through regular testing from your doctor. Women under 40 should have a clinical breast exam done every year as part of their yearly checkups. Your doctor will ask you about any changes you’ve noticed in your breasts, like lumps. You can check your breasts yourself, or you can have the doctor do it for you. Anything abnormal, no matter how small, should be reported.

After the age of 40, annual mammograms become very important. Mammograms are beneficial for catching most cancers in their early stages, but not all of them. While mammograms have their limitations, they are one of the most common and reliable methods of diagnosing breast cancer. In certain situations an MRI may be used in conjunction with a mammogram to help with diagnosis. Once a lump is found, doctors typically take a sample (i.e. biopsy) to determine if microscopic cancer cells are present.


There are at least ten different types of breast cancer. Some are restricted to certain parts of the breast, while others may spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes even pregnant women can get breast cancer, although it is rare. The stage of breast cancer is determined by type, whether or not the disease has spread, how far it has spread, how many (if any) lymph nodes are affected, and the size of the tumor.


Like other types of cancer, the prognosis of breast cancer depends on the type of breast cancer a patient has, and how early the disease is caught. Some rare types of breast cancer, like mucinous carcinoma, have a high survival rate. The chances of surviving breast cancer increase considerably the earlier it is detected. If it is caught at the first stage, the survival rate chance is 99%. If is it caught in its last stage, the chance of survival is only 14%.

Improving Prognosis

There are different types of treatments available for breast cancer. The most common type is radiation and chemotherapy. A physician may use a combination of these two procedures, along with certain medications and therapy (like hormone therapy), to increase the chances of survival.

While a healthy diet and lifestyle cannot absolutely prevent you from getting cancer, it can help. If you have cancer, talk to your physician about what foods or habits you should avoid while undergoing treatment. If you are a smoker or you drink heavily, decreasing your use will help increase your chances of survival.



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To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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