Diseases and Disorders > Cancer > Breast Cancer

The Facts About Breast Cancer

Here's what you didn't know you needed to know about a common diagnosis around the world.

green outline of a pair of breasts on green background with red circle over left breast

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide. It can affect men and women of all ages. Getting a breast cancer diagnosis can be frightening.

Understanding more about this condition and available treatment options can help you get through it better.


According to the American Cancer Society, cancer occurs "when cells in the body grow out of control." Breast cancer can form in any of the three main parts of the breast: lobules, ducts and connective tissue.

Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body if they enter the bloodstream or the lymph system.

The main symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • A lump in the breast or under the armpit
  • Pain or swelling of the breast
  • Changes to the nipple (discharge, redness, flaking)
  • Breast dimpling

Not everyone will experience these symptoms, and sometimes these symptoms can be easy to miss. Check your breasts regularly and look for any subtle changes.


The latest breast cancer breakthrough involved patients whose cells contained lower levels of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER2, according to CancerNetwork. Low-level HER2 accounts for 50 percent of all primary breast cancer cases.

In this trial, patients received trastuzumab deruxtecan (T-DXd), an antibody-drug conjugate. The aim was to deliver anticancer drugs to tumor cells to potentially inhibit growth. The drug showed promising results and may become a new standard of care for patients with lower levels of HER2.

While there have been several developments in breast cancer treatment in recent years, further research and new therapies are still urgently needed.

Diagnosis and testing

Expect a series of tests to find out what's causing your symptoms. Your doctor begins by examining your breasts and checking your lymph nodes for any abnormalities.

From there, your doctor may send you for an ultrasound or X-ray, and you may have a biopsy. The biopsy sample is sent to a laboratory where it will undergo testing for cancerous cells.

If cancerous cells are discovered, the biopsy can reveal more about the types of cells and their aggressiveness. This information is helpful in determining your treatment options.


Unfortunately, there's little you can do to prevent breast cancer. The biggest breast cancer risk factors are getting older or having a family history of breast cancer, both of which are out of your control.

It's important to remember that even if you are younger than age 55 and you have no family history of breast cancer, you can still develop breast cancer. However, certain lifestyle factors could potentially help lower your risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these factors include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol

Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or hormone replacement therapy can speak to their doctor about treatment options for lowering their risk. These options may include a prophylactic mastectomy, or surgery to remove one or both breasts. Research suggests a prophylactic mastectomy can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer by up to 95 percent.


According to the CDC, approximately 264,000 women and 2,400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States. Breast cancer causes about 42,500 deaths each year.

Approximately 66 percent of women are diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage. And if the cancer is located only in the breast, the five-year relative survival rate is 99 percent. However, if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 86 percent. Further spread may reduce the survival rate.

There are many factors that can influence the survival rate of breast cancer. Ultimately, early detection and prompt treatment are among the most effective ways to improve your chances for survival.

Living with breast cancer

A breast cancer diagnosis is emotionally and physically difficult. You may be confused about how you feel and you may have questions regarding your treatment and how you can expect to feel afterward. Some people find it helpful to write a list of questions in advance of their doctor's appointment.

Talking to a friend, family member or someone you trust can provide emotional support during these challenging times. If you are nervous or worried, ask a friend to keep you company at your appointment.

Treatment options

Your treatment is determined based on the stage of your cancer and whether it has spread (and where). Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer cases, whether it's to remove the cancerous lump from the breast or to perform a mastectomy.

Some patients require chemotherapy, either before or after surgery, to shrink the tumor or kill remaining cancer cells. Other treatment options, such as hormonal therapy and radiotherapy, could be chosen based on the stage and grade of the cancer.

The bottom line

Whether or not you have a family history of breast cancer or carry the mutated gene, anyone (man or woman) can receive a breast cancer diagnosis. Know the warning signs of breast cancer and contact your doctor if you discover a change in your breast health. Don't have a doctor? Use Giddy Telehealth. The simple online portal provides access to hundreds of healthcare professionals. Many healthcare providers offer same-day appointments or video consultations.


How does breast cancer usually start?

Breast cancer occurs when breast cells mutate and grow abnormally. Most of the time, this occurs in the lobules or the ducts. Although it can form in the connective tissue, this is considered rare. Being older than 55 or having a family history of breast cancer are two of the biggest risk factors. However, anyone can develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

What are the five warning signs of breast cancer?

The warning signs of breast cancer are localized pain, swelling in the breast, a red rash spreading across the breast, nipple discharge and skin sores. Contact your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

What are four early symptoms of breast cancer?

Some breast cancer cases can go misdiagnosed because the symptoms may be subtle or hard to notice. Watch for an increase in the size of your breast, changes in the shape of your breast, changes in the appearance of your nipples and any pain or swelling.