Triple-negative breast cancer is another rare disease type, affecting only about 10 to 15 percentTrusted Source of people with breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
To be diagnosed as triple-negative breast cancer, a tumor must have all three of the following characteristics:
If a tumor meets these three criteria, it’s labeled a triple-negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer tends to grow and spread more quickly than other types of breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancers are difficult to treat because hormonal therapy for breast cancer is not effective.
Male breast cancer
Although they generally have less of it, men have breast tissue just like women do. Men can develop breast cancer too, but it’s much rarer.
According to the ACSTrusted Source, breast cancer is 100 times less common in white men than in white women. Its 70 times less common in black men than in black women.
That said, the breast cancer that men develop is just as serious as the breast cancer women are diagnosed with. It also has the same symptoms.
Breast cancer survival rate
Breast cancer survival rates vary widely based on many factors.
Two of the most important factors are the type of cancer you have and the stage of the cancer at the time you receive a diagnosis. Other factors that may play a role include your age, gender, and race.
ResearchTrusted Source shows there’s a higher mortality rate in non-white people diagnosed with breast cancer compared with white people. One reason for this may be healthcare disparities.
The good news is breast cancer survival rates are improving.
According to the ACSTrusted Source, in 1975, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer in women was 75.2 percent. But for women diagnosed between 2008 and 2014, it was 90.6 percent.
Five-year survival rates for breast cancer differ depending on stage at diagnosis, ranging from 99 percent for localized, early stage cancers to 27 percent for advanced, metastatic cancers.
Diagnosis of breast cancer
To determine if your symptoms are caused by breast cancer or a benign breast condition, your doctor will do a thorough physical exam in addition to a breast exam. They may also request one or more diagnostic tests to help understand what’s causing your symptoms.
Tests that can help diagnose breast cancer include:
- Mammogram. The most common way to see below the surface of your breast is with an imaging test called a mammogram. Many women ages 40 and older get annual mammograms to check for breast cancer. If your doctor suspects you may have a tumor or suspicious spot, they will also request a mammogram. If an abnormal area is seen on your mammogram, your doctor may request additional tests.
- Ultrasound. A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the tissues deep in your breast. An ultrasound can help your doctor distinguish between a solid mass, such as a tumor, and a benign cyst.
Your doctor may also suggest tests such as an MRI or a breast biopsy.
If you don’t already have a primary care doctor, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
If your doctor suspects breast cancer, they may order both a mammogram and an ultrasound. If both of these tests can’t tell your doctor if you have cancer, your doctor may do a test called a breast biopsy.
During this test, your doctor will remove a tissue sample from the suspicious area to have it tested.
There are several types of breast biopsies. With some of these tests, your doctor uses a needle to take the tissue sample. With others, they make an incision in your breast and then remove the sample.
Your doctor will send the tissue sample to a laboratory. If the sample tests positive for cancer, the lab can test it further to tell your doctor what type of cancer you have.
Your breast cancer’s stage, how far it has invaded (if it has), and how big the tumor has grown all play a large part in determining what kind of treatment you’ll need.
To start, your doctor will determine your cancer’s size, stage, and grade (how likely it is to grow and spread). After that, you can discuss your treatment options.
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. Many people have additional treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.
Several types of surgery may be used to remove breast cancer, including:
- Lumpectomy. This procedure removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue, leaving the rest of the breast intact.
- Mastectomy. In this procedure, a surgeon removes an entire breast. In a double mastectomy, both breasts are removed.
- Sentinel node biopsy. This surgery removes a few of the lymph nodes that receive drainage from the tumor. These lymph nodes will be tested. If they don’t have cancer, you may not need additional surgery to remove more lymph nodes.
- Axillary lymph node dissection. If lymph nodes removed during a sentinel node biopsy contain cancer cells, your doctor may remove additional lymph nodes.
- Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Even though breast cancer may be present in only one breast, some people elect to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This surgery removes your healthy breast to reduce your risk for developing breast cancer again.
With radiation therapy, high-powered beams of radiation are used to target and kill cancer cells. Most radiation treatments use external beam radiation. This technique uses a large machine on the outside of the body.
Advances in cancer treatment have also enabled doctors to irradiate cancer from inside the body. This type of radiation treatment is called brachytherapy.
To conduct brachytherapy, surgeons place radioactive seeds, or pellets, inside the body near the tumor site. The seeds stay there for a short period of time and work to destroy cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment used to destroy cancer cells. Some people may undergo chemotherapy on its own, but this type of treatment is often used along with other treatments, especially surgery.
In some cases, doctors prefer to give patients chemotherapy before surgery. The hope is that the treatment will shrink the tumor, and then the surgery will not need to be as invasive.
Chemotherapy has many unwanted side effects, so discuss your concerns with your doctor before starting treatment.
If your type of breast cancer is sensitive to hormones, your doctor may start you on hormone therapy. Estrogen and progesterone, two female hormones, can stimulate the growth of breast cancer tumors.
Hormone therapy works by blocking your body’s production of these hormones or by blocking the hormone receptors on the cancer cells. This action can help slow and possibly stop the growth of your cancer.
Certain treatments are designed to attack specific abnormalities or mutations within cancer cells.
For example, Herceptin (trastuzumab) can block your body’s production of the HER2 protein. HER2 helps breast cancer cells grow, so taking a medication to slow the production of this protein may help slow cancer growth.
Your doctor will tell you more about any specific treatment they recommend for you.
Breast cancer pictures
Breast cancer can cause a range of symptoms, and these symptoms can appear differently in different people.
If you’re concerned about a spot or change in your breast, it can be helpful to know what breast problems that are actually cancer look like.
Breast cancer care
If you detect an unusual lump or spot in your breast, or have any other symptoms of breast cancer, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Chances are good that it’s not breast cancer. For instance, there are many other potential causes for breast lumps.
But if your problem does turn out to be cancer, keep in mind that early treatment is the key. Early-stage breast cancer can often be treated and cured if found quickly enough. The longer breast cancer is allowed to grow, the more difficult treatment becomes.
If you’ve already received a breast cancer diagnosis, keep in mind that cancer treatments continue to improve, as do outcomes. So follow your treatment plan and try to stay positive.
How common is breast cancer?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women.
According to statistics from the ACSTrusted Source, approximately 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2019.
Invasive breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the ducts or glands to other parts of the breast. More than 41,000 women are expected to die from the disease.
Breast cancer can also be diagnosed in men. The ACS also estimates that in 2019, more than 2,600 men will be diagnosed, and approximately 500 men will die from the disease.
Risk factors for breast cancer
There are several risk factors that increase your chances of getting breast cancer. However, having any of these doesn’t mean you will definitely develop the disease.
Some risk factors can’t be avoided, such as family history. You can change other risk factors, such as quitting smoking, if you smoke. Risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Age. Your risk for developing breast cancer increases as you age. Most invasive breast cancers are found in women over age 55 years.
- Drinking alcohol. Alcohol use disorder raises your risk.
- Having dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue makes mammograms hard to read. It also increases your risk for breast cancer.
- Gender. White women are 100 timesTrusted Source more likely to develop breast cancer than white men, and Black women are 70 times more likely to develop breast cancer than Black men.
- Genes. Women who have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t. Other gene mutations may also affect your risk.
- Early menstruation. If you had your first period before age 12 years, you have an increased risk for breast cancer.
- Giving birth at an older age. Women have their first child after age 35 years have an increased risk for breast cancer.
- Hormone therapy. Women who took or are taking postmenopausal estrogen and progesterone medications to help reduce their signs of menopause symptoms have a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Inherited risk. If a close female relative has had breast cancer, you have an increased risk for developing it. This includes your mother, grandmother, sister, or daughter. If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, you can still develop breast cancer. In fact, most women who develop it have no family history of the disease.
- Late menopause start. Women who start menopause after age 55 years are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Never having been pregnant. Women who have never become pregnant or carried a pregnancy to full term are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Previous breast cancer. If you have had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk for developing breast cancer in your other breast or in a different area of the previously affected breast.
Breast cancer prevention
While there are risk factors you can’t control, following a healthy lifestyle, getting regular screenings, and taking any preventive measures your doctor recommends can help reduce your risk for developing breast cancer.
Lifestyle factors can affect your risk for breast cancer.
For instance, women who have obesity have a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Maintaining a nutrient-dense diet and getting regular exercise as often as possible could help you lose weight and lower your risk.
Alcohol misuse also increases your risk. This can be having more than two drinks per day or binge-drinking.
However, one report that analyzed worldwide research showed that even one drink per day increases your risk for breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about what amount they recommend for you.
Breast cancer screening
Having regular mammograms may not prevent breast cancer, but it can help reduce the chances that it will go undetected.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) provides the following general recommendations for women at average risk for breast cancer:
- Women ages 40 to 49: An annual mammogram isn’t recommended, but women should discuss their preferences with their doctors.
- Women ages 50 to 74: A mammogram every other year is recommended.
- Women 75 and older: Mammograms are no longer recommended.
The ACP also recommends against mammograms for women with a life expectancy of 10 years or less.
These are only guidelines.
Recommendations from the ACS differ. According to the ACS, women should have the option of receiving annual screenings at 40 years old, begin annual screenings at 45 years old, and move to biennial screening at 55 years old.
Specific recommendations for mammograms are different for each woman, so talk with your doctor to see if you should get regular mammograms.
Some women are at increased risk for breast cancer due to hereditary factors.
For instance, if your mother or father has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you’re at higher risk for having it as well. This significantly raises your risk for breast cancer.
If you’re at risk for this mutation, talk with your doctor about your diagnostic and prophylactic treatment options. You may want to be tested to find out whether you have the mutation.
And if you learn that you do have it, talk with your doctor about any preemptive steps you can take to reduce your risk for developing breast cancer. These steps could include a prophylactic mastectomy (surgical removal of a breast).
In addition to mammograms, breast exams are another way to watch for signs of breast cancer.
Many women do a breast self-examination. It’s best to do this exam once a month, at the same time each month. The exam can help you become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel so that you’re aware of any changes that occur.
Keep in mind, though, that the ACSTrusted Source considers these exams to be optional, because current research hasn’t shown a clear benefit of physical exams, whether performed at home or by a doctor.
Breast exam by your doctor
The same guidelines for self-exams provided above are true for breast exams done by your doctor or other healthcare professional. They won’t hurt you, and your doctor may do a breast exam during your annual visit.
If you’re having symptoms that concern you, it’s a good idea to have your doctor do a breast exam. During the exam, your doctor will check both of your breasts for abnormal spots or signs of breast cancer.
Your doctor may also check other parts of your body to see if the symptoms you’re having could be related to another condition.
Breast cancer awareness
Fortunately for women and men around the world, people are increasingly aware of the issues associated with breast cancer.
Breast cancer awareness efforts have helped people:
- learn what their risk factors are
- how they can reduce their level of risk
- what symptoms they should look for
- what kinds of screening they should be getting
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is held each October, but many people spread the word throughout the year.