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Breast Cancer

Cancer that forms in tissues of the breast.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Breast Cancer

Female Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.

The breast is made up of lobes and ducts. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes, which have many smaller sections called lobules. Lobules end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can make milk. The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are linked by thin tubes called ducts....Read more about Female Breast Cancer

Male Breast Cancer

Male breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.

Breast cancer may occur in men. Men at any age may develop breast cancer, but it is usually detected (found) in men between 60 and 70 years of age. Male breast cancer makes up less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer.

The following types of breast cancer are found in men:

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Suspected Cancer: Recognition and Referral

Cancer is an important condition, both in terms of the number of people affected and the impacts on those people and the people close to them. Around one third of a million new cancers are diagnosed annually in the UK, across over 200 different cancer types. Each of these cancer types has different presenting features, though there may be overlap. More than one third of the population will develop a cancer in their lifetime. Although there have been large advances in treatment and survival, with a half of cancer sufferers now living at least ten years after diagnosis, it remains the case that more than a quarter of all people alive now will die of cancer.

Venous Thromboembolism: Reducing the Risk of Venous Thromboembolism (Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism) in Patients Admitted to Hospital

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a term used to include the formation of a blood clot (a thrombus) in a vein which may dislodge from its site of origin to travel in the blood, a phenomenon called embolism. A thrombus most commonly occurs in the deep veins of the legs; this is called deep vein thrombosis. A dislodged thrombus that travels to the lungs is known as a pulmonary embolism.

Specialist breast care nurses for supportive care of women with breast cancer

Breast cancer is a complex disease which has seen survival for women improve over the last 20 years. Many of these improvements are linked to treatment advances, improved screening and a multiprofessional approach to its management. Breast Care Nurses (BCNs) work within this multiprofessional environment providing a range of interventions including support, information, patient advocacy and general liaison among the various members of the healthcare team. The objective of this review was to assess the effectiveness of individual interventions carried out by BCNs on quality of life outcomes for women with a diagnosis of breast cancer. We reviewed five studies which met the criteria for this systematic review. These involved a range of interventions and outcome measurements, and included women of various ages and in various stages of breast cancer assessment and treatment. These studies also used many different methods of reporting statistical findings and for this reason, the results of the studies could not be combined. Despite limited evidence to support their BCN role, one study which looked at follow up by the BCN compared to a doctor concluded that there were no differences for either group in terms of satisfaction with care or the ability of the healthcare provider to identify anxiety and depression. Another study showed that specific BCN interventions can alleviate perceived distress for women undergoing radiotherapy treatment however this did not have any impact on coping skills, mood or overall quality of life.

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Summaries for consumers

Specialist breast care nurses for supportive care of women with breast cancer

Breast cancer is a complex disease which has seen survival for women improve over the last 20 years. Many of these improvements are linked to treatment advances, improved screening and a multiprofessional approach to its management. Breast Care Nurses (BCNs) work within this multiprofessional environment providing a range of interventions including support, information, patient advocacy and general liaison among the various members of the healthcare team. The objective of this review was to assess the effectiveness of individual interventions carried out by BCNs on quality of life outcomes for women with a diagnosis of breast cancer. We reviewed five studies which met the criteria for this systematic review. These involved a range of interventions and outcome measurements, and included women of various ages and in various stages of breast cancer assessment and treatment. These studies also used many different methods of reporting statistical findings and for this reason, the results of the studies could not be combined. Despite limited evidence to support their BCN role, one study which looked at follow up by the BCN compared to a doctor concluded that there were no differences for either group in terms of satisfaction with care or the ability of the healthcare provider to identify anxiety and depression. Another study showed that specific BCN interventions can alleviate perceived distress for women undergoing radiotherapy treatment however this did not have any impact on coping skills, mood or overall quality of life.

It is not yet clear whether adding chemotherapy (anti‐cancer drugs) to another treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer in the same area improves survival

Early breast cancer can be removed by surgery, and for most women the chance of the cancer returning (recurrence) is small. In some women however, the cancer returns in the same area. Chemotherapy (anti‐cancer drugs) can be used together with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy, to try to treat recurring cancer and improve survival. The review found that few trials have been performed to investigate its effectiveness. There is currently not enough evidence that adding chemotherapy to other treatments helps to treat the recurring cancer or to improve survival. However, chemotherapy may be an option, and further trials are underway.

Fraction size in radiation treatment for breast conservation in early breast cancer

Breast cancer is an important disease for women, with one in eight women in the United States and Australia and one in nine women in the United Kingdom being diagnosed with the condition by age 85 years. Breast conserving therapy (removing the tumour but keeping an intact breast) has proven to be as effective as mastectomy (removing the breast tissue) in terms of survival for women with cancer confined to the breast (or the local lymph nodes, or both), as long as a five to six‐week course of radiation therapy is delivered. This involves 25 to 30 visits to a radiation oncology department. Without radiation therapy after breast conserving surgery there is a significant risk of breast cancer returning in the breast (local recurrence) in as many as 30 to 40 women per 100. Furthermore, for every local recurrence avoided with radiation, one death is avoided at 15 years. Many women prefer breast conservation which has resulted in an increased demand for radiation services. Giving fewer radiation treatments (fractions) would be beneficial to women if this has the same effect on tumour control and survival and cosmetic outcome. In order to reduce the number of treatments, the radiation dose delivered per fraction is increased. This may also reduce demand on radiation resources and be more convenient for women.

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Terms to know

Breast
Glandular organ located on the chest. The breast is made up of connective tissue, fat, and breast tissue.
Carcinoma
Carcinoma is a cancer found in body tissues that cover or line surfaces of organs, glands, or body structures.
Duct
In medicine, a tube or vessel of the body through which fluids pass.
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)
A noninvasive condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of a breast duct.
Lobe
A portion of an organ, such as the liver, lung, breast, thyroid, or brain.
Lobule
A small lobe or a subdivision of a lobe.
Tissue
A group of cells that act together to carry out a specific function in the body. Examples include muscle tissue, nervous system tissue (including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves), and connective tissue (including ligaments, tendons, bones, and fat). Organs are made up of tissues.
Tumor (Neoplasm)
An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Neoplasms may be benign (not cancer), or malignant (cancer). Also called tumor.

More about Breast Cancer

Photo of an adult

Also called: Malignant tumour of the breast, Malignant tumor of the breast

Other terms to know: See all 8
Breast, Carcinoma, Duct

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Cancer: Anxiety and Distress

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