[Skip to Content]

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is treated in our Breast Cancer Program within the Upstate Cancer Center.

For more information or answers to your questions about our Cancer Care, please call 315 464-HOPE (4673) to speak with an Upstate Cancer Center representative.

Related Media: Mastectomy Lumpectomy


Breast cancer is when cancer cells grow in the breast. The breast is made up of lobules, which make milk, and ducts which pass milk to the nipple. The lobules are surrounded by fat blood vessels, and lymph and connective tissue.

Some types of breast cancer are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ—found in the ducts
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma—starts in the ducts and spreads to surrounding tissues
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma—starts in the lobules and spreads to surrounding tissues
  • Inflammatory— invades the lymph vessels of the skin and often spreads to other parts of the body
  • Paget disease of the breast—found in the areola and nipple
Breast Cancer
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.

It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.

Risk Factors

Breast cancer is most common in women over 40. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family and genetic risks, such as:
    • Family members with breast cancer
    • Certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
    • Rare genetic conditions such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Increased exposure to estrogen, due to:
    • Early menstruation
    • Late menopause
    • No childbearing or late childbearing
    • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Excess body weight or obesity—especially after menopause
  • Smoking, or drinking too much alcohol
  • A history of breast atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ
  • Dense breasts
  • Previous breast cancer
  • Radiation exposure


Some breast cancers have no symptoms. If symptoms happen, they may be:

  • One or more lumps in the breast
  • One or more lumps near the breast—or under the arm or collarbone
  • A change in the way the breast or nipple looks or feels, such as:
    • Thickening in or around the breast
    • A change in the size or shape of the breast
    • Inward sinking of the nipple
    • Ridges or pitting of the breast skin,
    • Breast skin that is red, sore, or flaky
  • Nipple discharge or soreness
  • Pain in the breast


Breast cancer may be found during a mammogram screening.

Breast changes may also be found during a regular health visit. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam, breast exam, and blood tests will be done.

Imaging tests may be needed, such as:

A sample of breast tissue and nearby lymph nodes will be taken and tested for cancer cells. This can be done with:

  • Fine needle aspiration —uses a thin needle to remove fluid and/or cells from a breast lump
  • Core needle—uses a larger, hollow needle to remove a wider area of tissue
  • Surgical —a or part of a breast lump is removed

If cancer is found, the doctor may order blood and tissue tests to learn about the type of cancer.

Diagnosis is confirmed by the tests. The exam and test results are also used for staging. Staging outlines how far and fast cancer has spread.


The goal is to remove the cancer and stop it from coming back or spreading. Treatment is based on the person's health and the stage and type of cancer. One or more treatments may be used.

Options may be:

  • Surgery, such as:
    • Lumpectomy—removal of the breast cancer, some area tissue, and sometimes lymph nodes
    • Mastectomy—removal of the breast, and sometimes lymph nodes and other tissues
  • External or internal radiation therapy—to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor
  • Chemotherapy drugs by mouth, injection, or IV—to kill cancer cells
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Biological therapy—helps the body fight cancer
    • Hormone-blocking therapy—to block hormones in certain types of breast cancer
    • Supportive medicines—to treat side effects of cancer treatment


Some women may reduce the risk of breast cancer by:

  • Reaching and keeping a healthy weight
  • Doing regular physical activity
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol

Women with a very high risk may benefit from hormone therapies or other treatments.


  • Breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • Breast cancer. Centers for Disease Control website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/breast-cancer-in-women Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • Brewer HR, Jones ME, et al. Family history and risk of breast cancer: an analysis accounting for family structure. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017;165(1):193-200.
  • Cryotherapy. Breast Cancer website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/cryotherapy. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • General information about breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • How radiation works. Breast Cancer website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/radiation/how%5Fworks. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • Planning your treatment. Breast Cancer website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/planning. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • Risk factors for breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/risk-factors-for-breast-cancer. Accessed March 25, 2021.
  • 3/25/2021 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T901178/Risk-factors-for-breast-cancer: de Blok CJM, Wiepjes CM, Nota NM, et al. Breast cancer risk in transgender people receiving hormone treatment: nationwide cohort study in the Netherlands. BMJ. 2019;365:l1652.