Breast Cancer

Many women feel emotionally connected to their breasts. In several ways, our breasts embody what it means to be female. Breast development is a significant rite of passage during adolescence. And later in life, countless women nourish babies with breast milk.

That’s why a breast cancer diagnosis can feel especially personal and devastating. Our breasts are tied to our identities as women or mothers.

Although it’s natural to be afraid of breast cancer, you can also feel hopeful. Today your odds of surviving breast cancer are greater than ever before. There are roughly three million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. And that number continues to grow thanks to advances in early detection and treatments.

Types of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that grows in one or both breasts. It affects both genders, but it’s around 100 times more common in women.

There are several kinds of breast cancer, each named for the part of the breast where it begins. For example, “ductal cancers” start in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple. “Lobular cancers” grow in the glands that make breast milk.

Breast cancer is also characterized by whether it is contained within the breast ducts (in-situ or non-invasive) or has extended outside the ducts (invasive).

Types of breast cancer include:

Some women are more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer because of a gene mutation that runs in their family. The two genes most linked to breast cancer are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you test positive for one of these genes, you will need to be screened more often and at a younger age.

Most of us associate breast cancer with women, and for good reason. One in eight women develop breast cancer during their lifetime. But did you know men can develop breast cancer, too? Male breast cancer is rare, but serious—especially if it’s not found until an advanced stage.

If you’ve noticed unusual changes in (or on) one of your breasts, talk to your doctor right away. You may not have cancer, but you won’t know for sure until you’re evaluated. Any cancer, no matter how rare, can be life-threatening if it’s not diagnosed early.

What is Male Breast Cancer?

Everyone is born with breast tissue. But once we reach puberty, girls develop more of it.

Even though teen boys don’t undergo the same breast changes, they keep the small amount of tissue they were born with. If cancerous cells eventually grow in this tissue, it’s considered male breast cancer.

Men can develop breast cancer at any age, but it usually affects those over 60. Symptoms include:

  • A lump in your breast.
  • Breast skin that becomes red, puckered, dimpled or scaly.
  • Nipple changes, including discharge or a nipple that suddenly turns inward.

Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer

Some men are more likely to develop breast or prostate cancer because of a gene mutation that runs in their family. The gene most linked to male breast cancer is called BRCA2.

Other risk factors include:

  • Exposure to estrogen, including hormone therapy to treat prostate cancer.
  • Exposure to radiation. Men who have had radiation treatments for chest cancers are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Obesity. Men with more fat cells may have increased estrogen levels.
  • Medical conditions that can increase estrogen levels, including cirrhosis and orchitis.

Breast Cancer Treatment at Mercy

If you have breast cancer, you need more than just medical care. You need support and encouragement from health care professionals who understand your fears – and will help you overcome them.

Mercy’s breast cancer specialists treat women and men with all types of breast cancer. Whether we caught your cancer early or it is aggressive and spreading, our goal is the same. We’ll provide personalized care that addresses your body, mind and spirit.

Depending on your age, along with the type and stage of your cancer, your treatment plan may include one or more of the following:

  • Medication, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapies.
  • Radiation treatments, including brachytherapy or external beam radiation therapy.
  • Surgery, including lumpectomy and single or double mastectomy. We also offer immediate or delayed breast reconstruction procedures. These range from breast implants to “flap” surgeries. For male breast cancer surgery is often used to remove the cancer. Your surgeon may remove all your breast tissue (including the nipple) and some of the lymph nodes from your armpit.

Your care doesn’t end when you finish your breast cancer treatments. As you begin recovery, you’ll find many rehabilitation and survivorship services throughout the Mercy system. We’ll help you regain your physical and emotional strength — and embrace a future that is free of cancer.

Download a Breast Cancer Treatment Guide

Basic information about the types of breast cancer and how it can be treated at each stage.

Download a Free Guide to Mammograms

A guide that addresses techniques, age guidelines and other screening concerns.

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