Health Guide

Breast cancer

What is it?

  • Breast cancer is found as a tumor (lump) and is seen as a spot on a mammogram. The lump may or may not be large enough to feel. Mammograms can see lumps in the breast which are too small to feel. Your breasts are made of many lobes (sections), ducts, and vessels (small tubes). The vessels carry liquids such as lymph (limf) and blood. The lymph vessels lead to small bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. These lymph nodes are in your armpit and chest and near your collarbone. Ducts carry milk from the lobes to the nipple of the breast.
  • Normal cells divide (split) in a planned way, making more cells only when needed. Cancer happens when cells grow and divide without control or order, often making too much tissue (tumor). Breast cancer cells may grow into nearby healthy tissue. Or, they may break away from the tumor. These cells travel through the blood stream or lymphatic (lim-fat-ik) system to other parts of the body. It is called metastasis (meh-tas-ta-sis) or "mets" when tumor cells spread to other areas of the body. Breast cancer can begin in the lobes or the breast ducts. It can spread into the lymph nodes even when the lump is very small.
  • The cure rate is increased if breast cancer is found and treated early.


There is no known cause of breast cancer but you cannot catch it from someone else. Most breast cancers happen in women who have no risk factors. But, there are things that may put you at higher risk for getting breast cancer.

  • Women over 45 years old who have not yet gone through menopause may have a higher risk. You may also be at risk if your first pregnancy was after age 30.
  • If your mother, sister, or daughter had breast cancer, you have a greater chance of getting it. This risk is higher if that person had the cancer before menopause. It is also higher if the cancer was in both breasts.
  • It is rare, but men can also get breast cancer.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • During the early stages of breast cancer, there are not usually any symptoms. But early cancer may be found on a mammogram. You may have one or more of the following signs or symptoms:
    • Breast cancer found in later stages may cause swollen lymph nodes under your arm. It may also cause bone or back pain or trouble breathing. If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, you may have other problems as well.

    Wellness Recommendations:

    • Exercise daily. Do not smoke. Limit how much alcohol you drink. Lose weight if you are overweight.
    • Learn to do a self-breast exam every month.
    • Have your first mammogram between 35 and 40 years. Between 40 and 50 years of age, have a mammogram every other year. At age 50 and beyond, have a mammogram every year. Mammograms are not foolproof. They should not take the place of your monthly self-exam and an exam by your caregiver every year.

    Medical Care:

    • A biopsy will be done if a breast lump is felt or a spot is seen on a mammogram. Other tests may also be done if the biopsy results are positive for breast cancer, such as a bone scan, x-rays, or a computed tomograph (CT) scan. These test results would help caregivers learn if the cancer has spread. Caregivers will talk to you about treatment options, which could include surgery.
    • Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may also be suggested to treat your breast cancer.

    Dietary Measures:

    • Fiber decreases estrogen levels in premenopausal women. A high fiber diet may inhibit tumor growth.
    • Fruits and vegetables may decrease breast cancer risk. Good vegetables to eat are broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and turnip roots. Vegetable juices may be even more healthy than raw or cooked vegetables.
    • Garlic and onions may decrease breast cancer risk.
    • Vegetarian diets may decrease estrogen levels and decrease breast cancer risk.

    Herbs and Supplements:

    Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



        Complementary Therapies:

        • Acupuncture may help to keep you healthy and may decrease nausea.
        • Guided imagery, a mental imaging technique used to relax and stimulate the immune response, can improve quality of life in cancer patients.
        • Joining a support groups for women with breast cancer may be helpful.

        Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

        Talk to your caregiver if:

        • You would like medicine to treat breast cancer.
        • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
        • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


        • You have chest pain.
        • You have trouble breathing.
        • One of your legs swells up and hurts.

        Care Agreement:

        You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


        1. Barnes S: Phytoestrogens and breast cancer. Baillieres Clin Endocrinol Metab 1998; 12(4):559-579.

        2. Bowlin SJ, Leske MC, Varma A et al: Breast cancer risk and alcohol consumption: results from a large case-control study. Int J Epidemiol 1997; 26(5):915-923.

        3. Carpenter CL, Ross RK, Paganini-Hill A et al: Lifetime exercise activity and breast cancer risk among post-menopausal women. Br J Cancer 1999; 80(11):1852-1858.

        4. Challier B, Perarnau JM & Viel JF: Garlic, onion and cereal fibre as protective factors for breast cancer: a French case-control study. Eur J Epidemiol 1998; 14(8):737-747.

        5. DeMarini DM: Dietary interventions of human carcinogenesis. Mutat Res 1998; 400(1-2):457-465.

        6. Dundee JW & Yang J: Prolongation of the antiemetic action of P6 acupuncture by acupressure in patients having cancer chemotherapy. J R Soc Med 1990 83(6):360-362.

        7. Heiny BM, Albrecht V & Beuth J: Correlation of immune cell activities and beta-endorphin release in breast carcinoma patients treated with galactose-specific lectin standardized mistletoe extract. Anticancer Res 1998; 18:583-586.

        8. Iino Y, Yokoe T, Maemura M et al: Immunochemotherapies versus chemotherapy as adjuvant treatment after curative resection of operable breast cancer. Anticancer Res 1995; 15(6B):2907-2911.

        9. Kenny FS, Pinder SE, Ellis IO et al: Gamma linolenic acid with tamoxifen as primary therapy in breast cancer. Int J Cancer 2000; 85:643-648.

        10. Lissoni P, Barni S, Tancini G et al: A randomised study with subcutaneous low-dose interleukin 2 alone vs interleukin 2 plus the pineal neurohormone melatonin in advanced solid neoplasms other than renal cancer and melanoma. Br J Cancer 1994; 69(1):196-199.

        11. Lockwood K, Moesgaard S, Yamamoto T et al: Progress on therapy of breast cancer with vitamin Q10 and the regression of metastases. Biochem Biophys Res Comm 1995; 212:172-177.

        12. Meyer K, Schwartz J, Crater D et al: Zingiber officinale (ginger) used to prevent 8-MOP associated nausea. Dermatol Nurs 1995; 7(4):242-244.

        13. Michnovicz JJ: Increased estrogen 2-hydroxylation in obese women using oral indole-3-carbinol. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1998; 22(3):227-229.

        14. Nakachi K, Suemasu K, Suga K et al: Influence of drinking green tea on breast cancer malignancy among Japanese patients. Jpn J Cancer Res 1998; 89:254-261.

        15. Pujol P, Galtier-Dereure F & Bringer J: Obesity and breast cancer risk. Hum Reprod 1997; 12 (Suppl 1):116-125.

        16. Ritter MM & Richter WO: Effects of a vegetarian life style on health. Fortschr Med 1995; 113(16):239-242.

        17. Rose DP, Lubin M & Connolly JM: Effects of diet supplementation with wheat bran on serum estrogen levels in the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle. Nutrition 1997; 13(6):535-539.

        18. Shapiro TA, Fahey JW, Wade KL et al: Human metabolism and excretion of cancer chemoprotective glucosinolates and isothiocyanates of cruciferous vegetables. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1998; 7(12):1091-1100.

        19. Spiegel D, Bloom JR, Kraemer HC et al: Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet 1989; 2(8668):888-891.

        20. Walker LG, Walker MB, Ogston K et al: Psychological, clinical and pathological effects of relaxation training and guided imagery during primary chemotherapy. Br J Cancer 1999; 80(1-2):262-268.

        21. Wu B: Effect of acupuncture on the regulation of cell-mediated immunity in the patients with malignant tumors. Chen Tzu Yen Chiu 1995; 20(3):67-71.

        Last Updated: 7/4/2018
        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites.

        All rights reserved