Cancer occurs when some cells begin to grow abnormally and uncontrollably. Those rapidly accumulating cells form masses, or tumors. In the breasts, tumors usually form in the milk ducts or the lobules, the glands that produce milk. In rare cases, cancer can form in the breast’s connective tissue – muscles, fat, and blood vessels.
What causes those cells to start growing so rapidly and uncontrollably is not entirely known, although researchers at UT Southwestern and elsewhere work every day to find the answer. Some factors are known to increase the risk of cancer.
Some of the risk factors for breast cancer can be controlled, while others cannot.
Risk factors include:
While there’s no definitive way to prevent breast cancer, there are ways to lower your risk:
If hereditary factors put you at a higher risk for breast cancer, you may be able to reduce your risk with medication. One of the largest breast cancer prevention trials showed that the medications tamoxifen and raloxifene can lower the risk of invasive cancer in women.
For non-invasive cancer, raloxifene was less effective at reducing risks, while tamoxifen was associated with the development of uterine cancers and blood clots. Your doctor can decide if one of these drugs is right for you.
Women at high risk because of a genetic mutation also may choose to have their breasts surgically removed as a preventive measure. UT Southwestern specialists can help determine your risk with groundbreaking genetic testing and counseling, and can assist you in understanding all your options.