About Breast Cancer

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Among the top in cancer research and care. The only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West.


Breast cancer is a disease where cancerous cells form inside tissues of the breast. These are the most common types:

  • Ductal carcinoma begins in the cells of breast ducts and is the most common form of breast cancer.
  • Lobular carcinoma begins in breast lobes or lobules.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer is less common. Cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin. This makes the breast warm, red, and swollen. The skin of the breast may also look dimpled.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of breast cancer:

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • Dimples or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • A nipple turned inward into the breast
  • Fluid, other than breast milk, from the nipple, especially if it's bloody
  • Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple)
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about breast cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Images of the Breast

anatomical drawing of the female breast
Anatomy of the female breast. The nipple and areola are shown on the outside of the breast. The lymph nodes, lobes, lobules, ducts, and other parts of the inside of the breast are also shown.
anatomical drawing of the male breast
Anatomy of the male breast. The nipple and areola are shown on the outside of the breast. The lymph nodes, fatty tissue, ducts, and other parts of the inside of the breast are also shown.

Our Experts

Our team of breast cancer specialists reviews each patient's case, coordinates treatment, and plans follow-up care:

  • Medical, radiation, and surgery doctors
  • Diagnostic specialists such as radiologists and pathologists
  • Geneticists
  • Nurses, dietitians, and social workers

Our care teams include nurses, advanced care nurses, and physician assistants. These health care professionals are always available to answer your questions and help with your concerns.

Find a Breast Cancer Doctor

Specialties & Treatments

The Breast Cancer Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) provides state-of-the-art breast screening and care. Our team of doctors dedicated to treating breast cancer patients has decades of collective experience.

We serve patients with all types of breast cancer, including these:

  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Male breast cancer

We have experience with your type of cancer and will work with you to create the best treatment plan. We offer services in Salt Lake City, Farmington, and South Jordan.

The type of treatment or combination of treatments is different for each person. It depends on the stage of the breast cancer, what the care team recommends, and also what the patient wants.

These are the most common types of breast cancer treatment:

  • Surgery, including reconstruction if necessary
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and about breast cancer screenings such as a mammogram.

Surgery & Breast Reconstruction

Breast-sparing surgery removes the cancer and some normal tissue around it. The surgeon may also remove one or more lymph nodes. This type of surgery usually keeps the breast looking the same as it did before surgery.

In a mastectomy, the surgeon removes the whole breast and sometimes one or more nearby lymph nodes. Breast reconstruction is an option for women who have a mastectomy. A new breast may be made using an implant or by using the patient's own tissue from other parts of the body.

HCI's surgeons use these advanced techniques to improve outcomes for patients:
  • Radioactive seed or Savi Scout® with ultrasound or 3D mammography guidance to find exact tumor location before surgery
  • Pre-surgery seed or Savi Scout® to locate sentinel lymph nodes for biopsy
  • Ink marking and images of the removed breast tissue for more accurate pathology results
  • Close collaboration between breast surgeons and reconstructive surgeons to meet each patient’s choice of cosmetic outcomes
  • Oncoplastic procedures—lumpectomy and immediate breast reconstruction in the same surgery
  • Lumpectomy with lift or reduction mammoplasty
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy

Learn more about breast cancer surgery choices from the National Cancer Institute.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is part of the treatment plan for many patients. HCI's radiation oncologists use the latest technology to kill cancer cells with as little damage to healthy tissue as possible:

  • 3D radiotherapy and intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) – radiation beam shaped to match the shape of the tumor
  • Accelerated partial breast irradiation – radiation delivered only to the part of the breast that has cancer
  • Hypofractionation – total radiation dose delivered over a shorter period of time
  • Balloon brachytherapy – radiation source placed inside the breast near the tumor
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery and body radiotherapy
  • Positional and breathing techniques to keep lungs and heart out of the radiation field

Chemotherapy, Hormone Therapy & Targeted Therapy

Many patients get chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination as part of their treatment plan. HCI's medical oncologists use the latest standard-of-care options and conduct clinical trials to develop new treatments. In addition, oncologists focus on managing side effects of treatments in order to improve long-term quality of life for breast cancer survivors.

Learn more about breast cancer systemic treatment options from the National Cancer Institute.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials at HCI test new ways to treat, diagnose, and manage symptoms and side effects of breast cancer.

Many studies look at new drugs or new combinations of established treatments. Other trials may study the effects of diet, exercise, or complementary treatments such as massage or acupuncture on quality of life for breast cancer patients. Trials may be available for patients with any stage of cancer and at any phase of treatment.

Here is a sample of current clinical trials open to breast cancer patients. Each trial has its own requirements that patients must meet in order to participate.

Causes & Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer, it means your chances are higher than the average person. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

The chance of getting breast cancer increases with age. These are other risk factors:

  • A personal history of breast cancer or other breast disease
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Changes in certain genes that increase the risk of breast cancer such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Very dense breast tissue
  • More estrogen in the body over time from factors such as menstruating at a young age, being older than 30 when first pregnant or never being pregnant, and starting menopause at a later age
  • Taking hormones such as estrogen after menopause
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being overweight

HCI features these breast cancer screening innovations:

  • Tomosynthesis (3D) mammography
  • Mammography combined with family history and genetic assessment
  • Immediate interpretation of screening mammogram while you wait

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about breast cancer screening.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

If you notice a change in your breast, make an appointment right away. Checking for breast cancer can rule out an issue or help find cancer early, when it may be easier to treat.

Health care providers use these tests to screen for and diagnose breast cancer:

  • Clinical breast exam (CBE): A health care provider feels the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything unusual.
  • Mammogram: Digital X-ray images of the breast that show abnormal areas inside the breast.
  • Ultrasound: High-energy sound waves create an image of breast tissue.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Equipment that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of the breast.
  • Tissue sampling: Health care providers remove cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

HCI uses advanced technology to help assure accurate breast cancer diagnosis:

  • Tomosynthesis (3D) mammography
  • Tomosynthesis-guided needle biopsy
  • MRI-guided needle biopsy and presurgical wire localization

Stages of Breast Cancer

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will use staging to find out if it has spread within the breast or to other parts of the body. There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

There are five stages of breast cancer. Staging for breast cancer is very complex. The cancer stage depends on the size of the tumor, where the cancer has spread, and how many lymph nodes have been affected.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

Learn more about breast cancer staging from the National Cancer Institute.


Huntsman Cancer Institute offers many helpful services with information and support for breast cancer patients and their loved ones.

Breast Cancer Video Series

In this series of videos, HCI breast cancer surgeon Cindy Matsen, MD, explains what to expect as a breast cancer patient at HCI. She discusses who is on your care team, what to expect before and after surgery, and what your doctors need to know to treat your breast cancer.