About Breast Cancer

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About Breast Cancer

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.
  • 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.


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.

Specialties & Treatments

The Breast Cancer Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) provides state-of-the-art breast screening and care. Our experienced, compassionate team 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 and reconstruction
  • 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.

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

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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 in a mother, daughter, or sister
  • 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 

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

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.
  • 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.
  • Ultrasound: High-energy sound waves create an image of breast tissue.

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.

These are the stages of breast cancer:

  • Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ, or “in place”)
  • Stage I
  • Stage II
  • Stage III (IIIA, IIIB, IIIC)
  • Stage IV

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 or auxiliary 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.


Introduction to the Huntsman Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Program
What Our Specialists Need to Know to Treat Your Cancer
Surgery Options for Breast Cancer
What to Expect after Breast Cancer Surgery