As part of National Women’s Health Week we are using our blog to highlight key topics in women’s health.

Research estimates that 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the breast. Below are the two most common types of breast cancer:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma—The most common type; begins in the lining of the milk duct in the breast. Makes up nearly 70-80 percent of all cases.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma—Begins in the milk-producing glands, the lobules, and is more often found in both breasts than other types of breast cancer. Makes up about 10 percent of all cases.

Causes and Risk Factors

While it is unclear what specifically triggers breast cells to grow abnormally, experts attribute the development of breast cancer to a combination of genetics, lifestyle choices and reproductive factors that may include the following items:

  • Older age
  • Menstruation at an early age (before age 12), or those who went through menopause later (after age 55)
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • Never having given birth, or having first given birth after age 30
  • Having radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Using oral contraceptives—although, this risk appears to go back to normal over time after the pills are stopped.
  • Being diagnosed with certain benign breast conditions
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Hormone therapy with estrogen after menopause
  • Being obese or overweight after menopause
  • Lack of physical activity

Symptoms and Screenings

The most common indication of breast cancer is discovering a lump in the breast or underarm area. Other signs include:

  • Swelling
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Nipple pain or abnormalities
  • Redness or scaly skin
  • Discharge from the nipple

To detect breast cancer, a doctor may use a mammogram, or a biopsy, which is the removal of cells or tissues to be viewed under a microscope. Estrogen and progesterone receptor tests may also be used to determine the levels of each hormone, or an MRI may be used, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of inside the body.

Prognosis and Treatment

The chance of recovery and the treatment options depend on many factors, including the stage of cancer, how fast the tumor is growing, hormone receptor levels and a woman’s age and general health. There are four standard types of treatment for breast cancer:

  • Surgery, ranging from a small lump of tissue being removed to the entire breast (mastectomy)
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or to prevent their growth
  • Chemotherapy, which uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells
  • Hormone therapy, which removes hormones or blocks their action to keep cancer cells from growing


It is important to give yourself a monthly breast exam and to talk to your doctor about when to begin annual mammogram screenings. The following are other ways to potentially keep breast cancer at bay:

  • Limit alcohol and fats
  • Stay physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight

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