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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It can develop in several locations, including the milk duct (the tube that carries milk to the nipple) and the milk lobule (where milk is produced).

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) starts in the milk duct and does not spread. Invasive carcinoma can spread outside of the breast.

Breast cancer symptoms

Common symptoms of breast cancer include the following:

  • Lump in breast or underarm
  • Breast swelling
  • Skin irritation or changes
  • Inverted nipple
  • Nipple discharge

Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. But you should see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Early cancer may have no symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend that women over 40 years of age undergo an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer.

How can I get help for breast cancer?

If you have breast cancer symptoms, your doctor will likely order imaging tests. These tests help your doctor see your breast in more detail:

  • Mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • MRI of the breast

If one of these tests shows something abnormal, your doctor will order a breast biopsy. A biopsy removes cells from your breast to test for cancer. If abnormal cells are found, your doctor will refer you to a breast cancer specialist.

Care for breast cancer at Rush

You will be cared for by a team of breast cancer specialists, including breast surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists. Your doctors will use one or more of these methods in your breast cancer treatment:

  • Surgery: lumpectomy or mastectomy to remove the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: high-energy, targeted X-rays to either destroy the cancer or keep it from coming back
  • Chemotherapy: drugs that destroy cancer cells
  • Hormone therapy: drugs like tamoxifen, which blocks cancer cells from using your hormones to grow, and aromatase inhibitors, which reduce the hormone production in your body
  • Biologic therapy: drugs like Herceptin (trastuzumab) that directly target the cancer cells to help your body fight cancer

At Rush, you have access to innovative breast cancer treatments. Many doctors at Rush have helped to develop and test new treatments for breast cancer. This includes drugs like Herceptin and other therapies that better target cancer cells and spare healthy cells.

Newer techniques in radiation therapy are also available at Rush:

  • Prone breast irradiation: The patient lies on her stomach so that her heart and lungs are less exposed to radiation during treatment.
  • Accelerated breast irradiation: This type of whole breast irradiation cuts treatment time in half and gives the same benefits. Accelerated partial breast irradiation can help preserve the breast in early stage cancer.
  • Deep inspiration breath hold: This technique helps minimize the amount of radiation exposure to the heart — while not affecting the amount delivered to the tumor — during treatment for cancer in the left breast.
  • Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT): Radiation is delivered during surgery to avoid weeks of radiation therapy following surgery.

After treatment, you may be referred to an occupational therapist, who can help you overcome difficulties performing everyday tasks caused by reduced arm strength (from treatment).

Why choose Rush for breast cancer care

  • Expert diagnosis: Your biopsy will be read by a pathologist who specializes in breast cancer. This expertise allows your pathologist to better distinguish a biopsy that is not cancer, sparing you unnecessary cancer treatment.
  • Personalized treatment: Your doctors will determine a treatment plan based on genomic tests of your cancer. These tests show which therapies will be more successful in treating your cancer. 
  • Genetic counseling: The Rush Inherited Susceptibility to Cancer Clinic offers genetic counseling for those with a family history of breast cancer. If you are from a high risk family, testing may help you find out if you carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 or another genetic mutation that increases breast cancer risk.
  • Accredited imaging and biopsy services: The Rush Breast Imaging Center is accredited by the American College of Radiology as a Center of Excellence for mammography, breast ultrasound, and stereotactic and ultrasound-guided needle biopsies.
  • Clinical trials: Researchers at Rush have helped to advance breast cancer treatment, and they continue to study new treatment options. By participating in a clinical trial at Rush, you can access treatments that may not yet be available elsewhere.
  • Single-visit consultations: Many patients are seen through the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Breast Cancer Clinic where you meet with your care team together in a single visit. This team includes a breast surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist, as well as a nurse coordinator. This consultation will give you a clear idea of the entire course of your treatment before you begin.
  • Award-winning care: The Rush University Cancer Center received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer in its most recent survey. Rush has received this triennial award all four times since the award was created in 2004. The award recognizes programs that excel in providing quality cancer care.

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