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Research and Clinical Trials

Return to Breast Cancer Overview

More on Breast Cancer

Cancer (Oncology)

Breast Cancer

About Breast Cancer

More than 182,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. It is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. and worldwide.

Over the past decades, researchers have made great strides toward understanding the biology of breast cancer. Physicians are using this new information to develop an array of targeted therapies and other approaches for treating the disease. These advances have helped women with breast cancer experience fewer side effects from treatment and live longer.

Our Approach

Patients receiving treatment for breast cancer at NewYork-Presbyterian are cared for by a multi-disciplinary team of physician-scientists who meet regularly to discuss research, review patients' cases, and plan courses of treatment. These collaborations are important. They allow our patients to receive comprehensive care and have access to emerging treatments, typically available in clinical trials.

Symptoms

Early-stage breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. That is why it is so important for women to get regular mammograms, physical examinations, and to perform monthly breast self-examinations.

When breast cancer does cause symptoms, they may include:

  • a breast lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm that feels different from the surrounding tissue
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast
  • redness or pitting of the skin over the breast (like an orange peel)
  • a dimpling of the breast skin
  • scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast or around the nipple
  • tenderness of the nipple
  • a nipple that turns inward into the breast
  • discharge of fluid from the nipple
  • peeling or flaking of the nipple skin

Diagnosis

Most women discover they have breast cancer through a mammogram. It is vital for all women to have mammograms after age 50, and for some women to begin screening at age 40. For women with a strong family history of breast cancer, it could be important to begin screening even earlier.

A physical or imaging exam can bring an abnormality to light, but a diagnosis of breast cancer cannot be confirmed without a biopsy. Doctors perform breast biopsies in different ways:

  • in a fine-needle aspiration, breast fluid is withdrawn from the lump through a needle and is examined for cancer cells
  • in a core needle biopsy, doctors use a thicker needle to remove tissue from the lump, which is examined for cancer cells
  • in a surgical biopsy, surgeons remove part or all of a lump for analysis

When breast cancer is diagnosed, doctors may order additional tests, such as MRI and/or CT scanning, to determine the extent (stage) of cancer growth. Pathologists also examine breast cancer tissue to see if it contains receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and/or the HER2 receptor. These tests help doctors determine which treatment would be most effective.

Treatment

The most effective treatment for most breast cancers is often a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy. Therefore, coordination between breast surgeons, plastic surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and nurses is important to achieve the best outcome. At our Centers, a team of social workers and nutritionists also support patients during and after their treatment.

Surgery

Surgery to remove the cancer is the first course of treatment for most women with breast cancer. Eradicating the tumor with removal of minimal tissue is the surgeon's primary goal, but we also consider how a woman's breasts will look and feel after surgery. Our reconstructive surgeons are involved from the beginning of a woman's care to ensure that she has the best possible cosmetic outcome.

Medical Oncology

Medical oncologists have a spectrum of anti-cancer drugs for treating breast cancer. The field of breast oncology is rapidly changing, with frequent new discoveries and forms of treatments. The drug, or combination of drugs, chosen to treat a patient depends on the stage of a woman's disease and the biology of her tumor. For example, a tumor may contain HER2 receptors, a protein found on the surface of tumor cells in about 20 percent of patients. Many women with HER2-positive breast cancer respond best when treated with the drug Trastuzumab.

Radiation Oncology

Radiation therapy can be an effective treatment for many forms of breast cancer. Our radiation oncologists treat breast cancer with both external beam radiation therapy and more targeted techniques that include: three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy and intensity-modulated radiation therapy. Targeted techniques provide oncologists with unparalleled precision. Physicians can pinpoint and shape radiation beams to the contours of the patient's tumor, while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue.

Hormonal Therapy

Doctors often treat women whose breast tumors contain receptors for estrogen and/or progesterone with drugs that reduce the production of these hormones. Patients may continue to take these drugs for several years after they complete other treatments to reduce their risk of recurrence.

Prevention

Some 7 to 10 percent of breast cancers develop as a result of an inherited genetic mutation. Our Centers offer genetic counseling and testing to women with a family history of breast cancer. This allows patients to make informed decisions about how to reduce their risk.

More information about cancer prevention at NewYork-Presbyterian can be found at: http://nyp.org/services/cancerprevention/index.html

Contact

Breast Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia
Directions
Breast Oncology
(212) 305-5098
Breast Surgery
(212) 305-9676
Breast Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell
(212) 821-0833
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