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What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that begins in the breast. It is one of the most common types of cancer in American women. Doctors don't yet know what causes breast cancer. Once breast cancer occurs, cancer cells can spread to other parts of your body, making it life-threatening. The good news is that breast cancer is often found early, before it has spread, and more treatment options exist than ever before. That means there's more hope of beating breast cancer.

Your doctor will use a biopsy to tell if you have breast cancer and to predict how fast it may grow, called the grade of the cancer. But it's likely you'll need other tests to learn about how far the cancer has progressed, called the stage of the cancer.

To decide the best course of treatment for you, your health care team needs to know as much as they can about your cancer. This may mean you need to get tests and work with more than one type of doctor or health care professional.

Your oncology health care team may include an oncology nurse and more than one specialist. Here are some of the doctors who specialize in dealing with breast cancer.

  • Gynecologists. Doctors who are specialists in women's health

  • Medical oncologists.  Doctors who are specialists in chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy

  • Radiation oncologists.  Doctors who are specialists in radiation therapy

  • Surgical oncologists.  Doctors who are specialists in surgery related to cancer 

  • Plastic surgeons. Doctors who are specialists in surgical reconstruction

This multidisciplinary approach helps you get well-rounded health care from the most appropriate experts. Your health care team will answer any questions you may have and will help you through each of the steps you'll take before, during, and after treatment. A member of your team will let you know which tests are needed and will review the results with you. Team members will guide you in making treatment decisions.

Treatment for breast cancer usually begins a few weeks after a diagnosis. That gives you time to do these things:

  • Get more tests, if you need them.

  • Talk with your doctor about treatment choices.

  • Get a second opinion, if you want one.

  • Decide about treatment.

  • Prepare yourself and your loved ones.

  • Look into health insurance coverage and financial support for cancer treatment. 


Online Medical Reviewer: Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 9/23/2013
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.