Diagnosing Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer Treatment at UCLA
Many breast tumors are found by a breast X-ray study called a mammogram. At age 40, women should begin having regular mammograms. If you have a family history of the disease or other risk factors, ask your healthcare provider about earlier screening.
- If you notice a lump in the breast or underarm, have it checked by a doctor. Breast swelling, skin discoloration, dimpling of the skin or nipple discharge should also be checked.
- In addition to a mammogram, your doctor may also recommend ultrasound or MRI scans.
- In some cases, a biopsy to see if you have breast cancer will be done if your mammogram is abnormal or you have a lump. Sometimes a small needle will be used to remove tissue from the lump and look at it under a microscope. Sometimes it is better to have a surgeon remove the entire lump to be sure about the diagnosis.
Treating Breast Cancer
The main treatment for breast cancer is surgery. This is often followed by radiation therapy. Some patients will also need chemotherapy and/or hormone blocking therapy.
- Breast conserving surgery is surgical removal of only the cancerous tissue. This operation is called a lumpectomy and is usually followed by radiation.
- Mastectomy is surgical removal of the breast.
- Both surgeries may be done in combination with tests that check the lymph nodes near the breast for cancer.
- Radiation therapy involves a radiation oncologist delivering radiation to the breast to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy works within cancer cells to make them unable to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them. Healthy tissue is able to repair itself in a way cancer cells cannot.
- Chemotherapy is medication prescribed by a medical oncologist to destroy cancer cells that may have traveled elsewhere in the body.
- Hormonal therapy is medication prescribed by a medical oncologist to block the effects of hormones that may be helping your tumor grow.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
Painless radiation treatments are delivered in a series of sessions Monday through Friday, for five to eight weeks. Each treatment lasts less than 30 minutes.
- The usual course of radiation treats only the breast, although you may need to have nearby lymph node areas treated also.
- 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT) allows for precise shaping of the radiation beam to better target the breast and spare surrounding normal tissue.
Side effects can include fatigue, skin irritation similar to a moderate sunburn, and mild to moderate breast swelling. These changes are temporary and can be treated by skin creams and/or medications. Tell your radiation oncologist or nurse about any discomfort you may feel.
Accelerated Partial Breast Radiation
External beam radiation therapy over several weeks is the standard of care. In national clinical trials, doctors are studying if accelerated partial breast irradiation (or APBI) - where radiation is delivered to only part of the breast over four to five days - works as well. These techniques are only available in a few clinics and then only to a select group of patients.
- Breast brachytherapy involves placing flexible plastic tubes called catheters or a balloon into the breast. Twice a day for five days, the catheters or the balloon are connected to a brachytherapy machine, also called a high dose rate afterloader. Your radiation oncologist then directs a special computer to guide a small, radioactive seed into the breast tissue near where the tumor was removed. The radiation is left in place for several minutes. After the end of the five days, the catheters or balloon are removed.
- 3-D conformal partial breast irradiation is where only part of the breast receives external beam radiation.
- Intra-operative radiation therapy (IORT) involves doctors delivering radiation to the breast during surgery.
The long-term results of these techniques are still being studied. Talk with your radiation oncologist for more information.
UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology was named a Savi Center of Excellence
The UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology is designated as a Center of Excellence in accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) for offering this advanced technology The SAVI® breast brachytherapy applicator is the latest advancement in the delivery of radiation treatment for women with early-stage breast cancer.
Breast brachytherapy is an approach that uses radiation to treat the lumpectomy cavity and the surrounding tissue from within the breast. SAVI allows your radiation oncologist to precisely deliver radiation where it is needed most. If you have been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, you might be eligible for 5-day radiation therapy with SAVI. SAVISisters.com provides access to important information about the SAVI applicator and partial breast radiation, as well as the opportunity to learn more from the women who have already experienced treatment with SAVI. Please ask your doctor if SAVI is appropriate for you. To learn more about SAVI, visit www.savisisters.com.
Dr. Susan McCloskey and Dr. Mitchel Kamrava are our two expert breast radiation oncologists. They are available to evaluate you for the most appropriate advanced treatment specifically for you.
More about Mammosite | Mammosite Patient Stories
After Mastectomy Radiation
After a mastectomy, your doctor may suggest radiation therapy for the chest wall and nearby lymph node areas.
- Whether or not radiation therapy should be used after removal of the breast depends on several factors. These factors include the number of lymph nodes involved, tumor size, and whether or not cancer cells were found near the edge of the tissue that was removed.
Many patients who have a mastectomy can safely skip radiation therapy. Ask your doctor for more information. Facts About Breast Cancer Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women, according to the American Cancer Society.
- This year, nearly 213,000 women and 1,700 men will learn they have breast cancer.
- Another 62,000 women will learn they have noninvasive (also called in situ) breast cancer.
- Nearly 41,000 women and 500 men will die from breast cancer this year.
- Breast cancer can often be cured. About 80 percent of all patients with breast cancer are free of the disease 10 years after their diagnosis.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Many women who develop breast cancer do not have known risk factors. Patient qualities that may increase the risk of developing the disease include:
- Age is the biggest risk factor. More than 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50.
- Family history of breast cancer in your mother or sister.
- Having children later in life, or not at all.
- Hormone replacement therapy with estrogen and progesterone.
- Being physically active, keeping a healthy weight, breast feeding and limiting alcohol intake may lower your risk for developing breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Resources
Breast Cancer Definition, Causes, Incidence, and Risk factors
Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the tissues of the breast. There are two main types of breast cancer:
Ductal carcinoma starts in the tubes that move milk from the breast to the nipple and Lobular carcinoma starts in parts of the breast, called lobules, that produce milk. More about breast cancer on UCLA Health System »
UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology
Visit their website to learn more about radiation therapy »
Learning About Clinical Trials
The radiation oncology team is always exploring new ways to improve treatment for cancer patients through studies called clinical trials. Today's radiation treatments are the result of clinical trials completed years ago proving that radiation therapy kills cancer cells and is safe long-term. For more information on current clinical trials, please visit: