Breast Cancer

Breast cancer, which affects one in eight women during their lifetime, is a group of malignant (cancerous) cells that form a mass of tissue called a tumor.

Deaths caused by breast cancer decreased 1.9 percent each year from 2003 to 2012 as the breast cancer rate remained steady, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet breast cancer remains the most common cancer in American women other than skin cancer. 

It’s a priority for medical professionals at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute in a state with the nation's second-highest rate of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Specialists

Symptoms

It is important that between mammograms and other screening tests, women check their breasts regularly for any lumps or changes. A hard mass with irregular edges, and no pain, is most likely cancerous. 

Also talk to your doctor if you detect:

  • A lump or mass near the breast or in the underarm area.
  • Swelling in the breast, even if there’s no lump or mass.
  • A change in size or shape of the breast.
  • Pain in the breast or nipple.
  • An inverted nipple (the point of the nipple turns inward).
  • Fluid (not breast milk) or blood from the nipple.
  • Changes in the texture of breast skin like thickening, redness or scaliness of the skin or nipple.

Causes

Damage to a cell’s DNA causes breast cancer, but researchers are still looking for the disease’s precise origins. Men get breast cancer, too, but it’s extremely rare. A man is 100 times less likely than a woman to get breast cancer. 

We do know that age, family history and inherited damaged or “variant” genes increase your risk of getting certain cancers, including breast cancer. For most women, the risk of getting breast cancer in their lifetime is around 12 percent. Just one damaged gene related to breast cancer, however, can raise that risk.

Genetic testing looks for such damaged genes. Ask your doctor if you or your family members should consider genetic testing, which is a simple blood or saliva test. Our certified, licensed genetic counselors can support you as you decide whether to undergo testing and will discuss healthcare recommendations based on your test results. That could include referral to specialists, cancer screenings, medication or risk-reducing surgery. If you already have cancer, knowing if you have a genetic variant can help determine treatment, and can help your family members make their own decisions about genetic testing.

To learn more about genetic testing, click here.

Studies have also focused on the effects of weight fluctuations, poor diet and lack of regular exercise. 

Types Of Breast Cancer 

There are many types of breast cancer. All originate in the breast, but they can be invasive or non-invasive with tumors that are hard or soft, look different and develop in different areas. 

Here are three common types:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: The most common type. The abnormal cells in the milk ducts penetrate the walls of the ducts and start growing into the breast’s fatty tissue.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: Originates in the milk-producing glands, or lobules.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ: Non-invasive or pre-invasive cancer that has developed “in place” (in situ), with abnormal cells contained in the breast’s milk ducts.

Note: If you are diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ, it does not mean you have breast cancer. (Even though “carcinoma” is a cancer.) This condition, with abnormal cells resembling cancer cells in the lobules of the breast glands that produce milk, increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

HHC Cancer Breast

Breast Cancer Stages

If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctors determine the stage based on available information, including:

  • The size of the tumor.
  • The number of lymph nodes affected.
  • Whether the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Results of physical exams, bone scans and other imaging results, blood tests, biopsies and X-rays.
  • Characteristics of the tumor itself

Treatment

With the death rate from breast cancer dropping, close to 3 million women today are breast cancer survivors. If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, your treatment will depend on the type of cancer, the stage and your age. It might not resemble treatment for some other breast-cancer patients, but it will be the best for you.

First, your doctors must get an accurate diagnosis.

Conventional imaging tests:

  • Mammogram.
  • Breast Ultrasound.
  • Breast MRI Scans.

Once diagnosed, your doctor will likely recommend at least one of these treatments:

  • Radiation therapy: High-energy particles or waves, similar to X-ray, that kills cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemicals that kill or shrink cancer cells, taken orally (pill form) or intravenously (through your veins). To learn about the side effects of chemotherapy, click here.
  • Biological therapy: Uses living organisms, or a similar substance created in a laboratory, to stimulate the immune system’s response against cancer cells. These therapies also can be used to treat side effects of other cancer treatments.

The Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, as the charter member in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Alliance, gives patients access to the latest clinical trials as researchers develop more effective, and less toxic, treatments for breast cancer.

Every week, cancer specialists from across the Cancer Institute meet to discuss complex breast cancer cases like yours. But it’s more than that. We want to know everything possible about your condition before we determine the appropriate treatment.

So, your care team includes primary care and OB GYN physicians, breast and oncologic surgeons, plastic and reconstructive surgeons, radiologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and medical oncologists. At the center of it: You and your family.

Learn more from Dr. Patricia DeFusco, a Hartford HealthCare medical oncologist:

Breast Cancer Services


Meet our Breast Cancer Specialists:

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Name Specialties Location
Allen, Brian Michael, MD
860.223.0800
  • Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
  • Plainville
Alsamarai, Susan, MD
203.238.7747
  • Hematology / Oncology
  • Internal Medicine
Show Less
  • Meriden
Anderson, Nicole Sunderland, MD
860.889.8331
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Norwich
Babigian, Alan, MD, FACS
860.548.7338
  • Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
  • Hand Surgery
Show Less
  • Farmington
  • Hartford
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Banever, Thomas Clark, MD, FACS
860.249.9189
  • General Surgery
  • Breast Surgery
  • Surgical Oncology
Show Less
  • Hartford
Bass, David Martin, MD
860.247.3479
  • Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
  • Hand Surgery
Show Less
  • Hartford
  • Avon
  • Glastonbury
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Bassin, Leah R., MD, FACS
860.246.2071
  • Breast Surgery
  • Farmington
  • Avon
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Bertsch, Helaine Fannie, MD
860.972.2803
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Avon
  • Hartford
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Boyd, Timothy Stephen, MD
860.972.2803
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Hartford
  • Avon
Show Less
Bulgaru, Anca Mariana, MD
860.886.8362
  • Hematology / Oncology
  • Internal Medicine
Show Less
  • Norwich
  • Plainfield
Show Less

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Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute