Understanding Breast Cancer

Published on October 15, 2019

breast cancer ribbon

Understanding Breast Cancer

If you’ve ever found a lump in your breast, your first reaction is often fear and that is normal. Cynthia Plate, MD, a breast surgeon that specializes in breast health, breaks down what you need to know.


Dr. Plate: Breast cancer is a disease that causes abnormal cell growth in the breast and forms a tumor. It is often felt as a lump in the breast or seen by a mammogram, an x-ray of the breast. There are different types of breast cancer that can occur in different areas of the breast, such as the milk-producing glands, called lobules, or the ducts that help to drain milk. Not every lump is breast cancer. Lumps can be caused by a variety of reasons such as:

  • Hormonal variation
  • Early pregnancy
  • Fibrocystic changes or cysts
  • Normal tissue that can feel “lumpy” like milk glands or fatty tissue


Dr. Plate: The signs for breast cancer can vary for each person. The most common symptoms include any new lumps or painless swelling. Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • Breast abscess
  • Change in breast shape or skin
  • Cysts or lumps that may feel tender
  • Discharge that is not caused by breastfeeding
  • Breast pain that is mild, in the same spot and constant

Self breast exams are important for women because it helps them understand what their breasts normally feel like, so they can spot any differences. Not all lumps are able to be felt, which is why annual mammograms are also important. Mammograms can help detect abnormal tissue and lumps that are too small for you to feel. If you do notice a change in your breasts, talk with your doctor right away.


Dr. Plate: Breast cancer can develop for numerous reasons. The most common causes are age and gender. Most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 40 with no family history. Other factors that can contribute to your risk of developing breast cancer are:

  • A strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet and exercise
  • Having dense breasts
  • Reproductive factors, such as early puberty or late menopause


Dr. Plate: The good news is that most breast cancers are very treatable, especially when found early. With early detection, your survival rate increases by 95%. There are a variety of treatments available that are minimally-invasive and can preserve your breasts. Your doctor and care team will work with you to find the best treatment options for your needs. These treatments can include chemotherapy, medication therapy, radiation therapy and surgery (mastectomy, lumpectomy, or breast-conserving surgery). Newer technology, such as SAVI SCOUT® and APBI, are available to help reduce stress and treatment time. Support and recovery services are also available for breast cancer patients. The comprehensive breast care team at Adventist HealthCare offers several classes and support groups designed for you and your breast cancer journey.

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