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The Cancer Imaging & Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging combines leading-edge technology and the expertise of specialty-trained radiologists to provide comprehensive cancer detection and monitoring, plus image-guided treatments for specific types of cancer.Request an Appointment
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The Breast Imaging Program provides state-of-the-art exams including breast tomosynthesis, the expertise of specialized breast radiologists, and a network of convenient metro Boston locations.
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The Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women’s Health Center brings together experts from more than 15 specialties to improve, promote and advance health care for women at menopause and beyond through research, collaboration and education.
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Massachusetts General Hospital's Breast Cancer Surgery Program provides expert care and state-of-the-art breast cancer surgery within a multidisciplinary Cancer Center team.
Breast Cancer: Introduction
What is cancer?
Cancer is when cells in the body change and grow out of control. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs them, and die when your body does not need them any longer. Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow even though your body doesn’t need them. In most types of cancer, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor.
Understanding the breast
The breast is made up of lobules and ducts. The lobules are the glands that can make milk. The ducts are thin tubes that carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple. The breast is also made of fat, connective tissue, lymph nodes, and blood vessels.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast. It occurs when cells in the breast are changed and start to grow out of control. The ducts and the lobules are the two parts of the breast where cancer is most likely to occur.
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women in the U.S. Doctors don't yet know exactly what causes it. Once breast cancer occurs, cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body, making it life-threatening. The good news is that breast cancer is often found early, before it has spread.
Types of breast cancer
There are several types of breast cancer, including these more common types:
Ductal carcinoma. This is the most common type and it begins in the lining of the ducts. When breast cancer has not spread outside of the ducts, it's called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or intraductal carcinoma. This is the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma is breast cancer that has spread beyond the walls of the breast ducts. It's the most common type of invasive breast cancer.
Invasive Lobular carcinoma. This type starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules) and spreads outside the lobules.
Paget disease. This is a rare form of breast cancer that begins in the glands in or under the skin. It grows slowly and often doesn’t get diagnosed and treated until it is advanced. It occurs in only one nipple, and causes symptoms that are like a skin infection, such as inflammation, redness, oozing, crusting, itching, and burning.
Inflammatory breast cancer. This is a rare form of invasive breast cancer. Usually there is no lump or tumor. Instead, this cancer makes the skin of the breast look red and feel warm. The breast skin also looks thick and pitted, like an orange peel. In its early stages, inflammatory breast cancer is often mistaken for a breast infection called mastitis.
Triple negative breast cancer. This is a type of breast cancer that doesn’t have estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors, and doesn’t have an excess of the HER2 protein on the cancer cell surfaces. This type of breast cancer tends to occur more often in younger women and in African-American women. It tends to grow and spread faster than most other types of breast cancer. The most common kind is invasive ductal carcinoma.
How breast cancer spreads
Breast cancer can spread by growing into nearby tissues in the breast or when the cancer cells get into and travel through the blood or lymph systems. When this happens, cancer cells may be found in the lymph nodes in the armpit. These lymph nodes are called axillary lymph nodes. They are often checked for cancer as part of the diagnosis process. If the cancer reaches these nodes, it may have spread to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer that has spread to other organs of the body is called metastatic breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it most often goes to the brain, bones, liver, or lungs.
The most important factor in evaluating breast cancer is determining which of these it is:
Noninvasive (in situ) cancer. This occurs only in the ducts or lobules and doesn’t spread to nearby areas. If not treated, it can later grow into a more serious, invasive type of cancer. If you are diagnosed with noninvasive carcinoma, your chances of surviving are very high if you don’t wait to treat it. If you do wait, you’re at risk of the cancer becoming invasive. Invasive cancer is harder to treat.
Invasive (infiltrating) cancer. This kind of cancer has started to spread to nearby areas. This type is much more serious than noninvasive cancer. It often invades nearby lymph nodes first. It can then spread to other parts of your body through your bloodstream and lymphatic system. Treatment for invasive cancer is usually a more difficult, long-term process.
Talking with your healthcare provider
If you have questions about breast cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can help you understand more about this cancer.
National panel finalizes breast cancer screening recommendation - 1/12/2016, Clinical
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issues final recommendation on breast cancer screening for women at average risk.
Lehman welcomed as new chief of Breast Imaging - 10/23/2015, Mass General
The Department of Radiology has announced the appointment of Constance Lehman, MD, PhD, as the new chief of the Breast Imaging Division, effective Sept. 1.
ACS releases new breast cancer screening guidelines - 10/21/2015, Clinical
The American Cancer Society recommends new breast cancer screening guidelines.
Breast Cancer Awareness 2015: Mass General Events - 10/1/2015, Mass General
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Mass General Imaging is hosting educational events to support women’s breast health. Learn more about this year's events in at Mass General locations in Boston, Waltham, Danvers and Revere.
Exercise breast cancer prevention - 10/10/2014, Mass General
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and reminders are everywhere for women to remain vigilant about screening and maintaining a healthy lifestyle – including daily exercise. Lidia Schapira, MD, medical oncologist with the MGH Center for Breast Cancer, shares her insights on the benefits of staying fit.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014 at Mass General - 10/1/2014, Mass General
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Mass General Imaging is hosting educational events to support women's breast health. Learn more about this year's events in Boston, Waltham, Danvers, Revere and Chelsea.
Research shows improved recall rates and cancer detection with breast tomosynthesis - 9/15/2014, Research
A large-population study found that breast tomosynthesis is associated with better performance for breast cancer screening.
A new kind of mammogram comes to Revere - 3/14/2014, Mass General
The latest breakthrough in mammography, breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography) is now available at the MGH Revere HealthCare Center.
Digital 3-D mammograms show promise - 12/3/2012, Mass General
Device companies race to improve breast cancer screening, but the effectiveness of new methods is still being studied.
Innovations in Breast Cancer Treatment - 7/16/2012, Mass General
As part of the multidisciplinary approach to breast cancer treatment, Mass General Cancer Center patients receive care from an integrated team of pathologists, radiologists, and medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists.
New Frontier in Breast Cancer Recovery - 7/16/2012, Mass General
William Gerald Austen Jr., MD, chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, is using liposuction techniques to advance less complicated breast reconstruction, with more natural outcomes.
Mass General-led Breast Cancer Studies Received early New England Journal of Medicine Publication - 12/16/2011, Mass General
Two New England Journal of Medicine papers reporting the results of separate Phase III clinical trials for the treatment of advanced breast cancer recently received early, online first release because the studies were presented at the December 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Mass General research addresses early breast screening for gene-mutation carriers - 10/6/2011, Research
Starting breast cancer screening as early as age 25 may help women who carry a genetic mutation linked to a higher risk of cancer live longer, according to a U.S. study.
Mass General Imaging expands 3D mammography service to Waltham - 10/3/2011, Clinical
Mass General West Imaging - Waltham introduces new technology that improves cancer detection while reducing callbacks.
Are 3D mammograms a breast cancer breakthrough? - 8/15/2011, Clinical
In what doctors hope is a big step forward, new 3-D mammograms promise better detection and fewer false alarms for hundreds of thousands of American women.
Poll: Women in their 40s want mammograms - 5/4/2011, Clinical
About 57 percent of women believe mammograms should start at age 40, according to a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll.
Mass General researcher gets grant to study optical breast imaging - 5/3/2011, Clinical
Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has awarded Qianqian Fang, PhD, and Philips Healthcare a $500,000 grant aimed at equipping traditional mammography systems with a low-cost optical imaging system with the potential to dramatically improve breast cancer detection.
Mammograms and thyroid cancer: The facts about breast-cancer screening - 4/20/2011, Clinical
Alarmist claims about a connection between thyroid cancer rates and mammography are not only without merit but also potentially harmful if they deter women from their annual screening.
3D mammography - 3/18/2011, Mass General
MGH Hotline 3.18.11
3D mammogram newest weapon against breast cancer - 3/7/2011, Clinical
Important breast cancer detection method, mammograms, gets a 3D upgrade; Doctors get to "look through" tissue.
Screening with mammography and breast MRI effective for women with high cancer risk - 2/22/2010, Clinical
The combination of MR imaging and mammography can provide a cost-effective way of improving life expectancy for women who have an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a study authored by Mass General Imaging radiologist Janie M Lee.
Experts question motives of mammogram guidelines - 11/16/2009, Clinical
Critics of the guidelines, issued on Monday by the US Services Task Force, an independent panel sponsored by the US Agency for Healthcare Quality, say the new guidelines are a step backward and will lead to more cancer deaths.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, every mammogram is read by a radiologist who specializes in breast imaging. We use the latest imaging technology including breast tomosynthesis as our standard of care for all screening mammograms.
Pioneered at Mass General Imaging, breast tomosynthesis provides a clear view through overlapping layers of breast tissue in order to improve breast-cancer detection while reducing callbacks.
Breast tomosynthesis gains momentum
Learn more about breast tomosynthesis in this podcast featuring Mass General staff radiologist and Harvard Medical School instructor Phoebe Freer, MD. Courtesy of Harvard Medical Labcast, March 2012, Harvard Medical School Office of Communications and External Relations