Breast cancer care at HonorHealth

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If you have a breast cancer diagnosis, you'll receive your first treatment quickly — in fewer than 30 days — thanks to coordinated, personalized care at HonorHealth.

Breast cancer isn't one disease. It's more than 40 diseases, each with different diagnoses and treatments. Because of this, the HonorHealth team will create a treatment plan customized for you.

HonorHealth breast cancer experts are as passionate about treating patients with breast cancer as they are pursuing innovative treatments. In fact, researchers are testing drugs and treatments that can slow the growth of cancer cells and shrink tumors with remarkable accuracy through breast cancer clinical trials.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

An estimated 12 percent of U.S. women are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. It's the second most common cancer in women. While rare, breast cancer can also occur in men.

The primary way to find breast cancer is through breast cancer screening exams such as monthly self-exams and mammograms.

With a physician prescription, you can schedule a mammogram at any of the three Phoenix-area locations of the HonorHealth Breast Health and Research Center or through HonorHealth's preferred provider in the East Valley, Scottsdale Medical Imaging. You can make an appointment at a Scottsdale Medical Imaging location by calling 480-425-5030.

If a mammogram detects a suspicious area, a follow-up ultrasound can help determine if a mass is cancerous or benign. A biopsy will produce a tissue sample for examination by a pathologist. An MRI may be another follow-up test used by HonorHealth experts to reach a diagnosis and help with a personalized treatment plan.

Your HonorHealth navigator will answer questions and offer advice as you move through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Primary signs and symptoms

What are the primary signs and symptoms of breast cancer? The early and most common signs are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in how the nipple looks or feels, and/or nipple discharge.

During your monthly self-exam, feel for a lump and also for changes that might be subtle. Here's what to look for if you find a lump:

  • Smooth or jagged edges.
  • Firm or squishy feel.
  • The size and overall shape.
  • The date you first noticed it.
  • Any tenderness or discomfort in your armpits.
Also look for other possible signs of breast cancer:
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
  • Inversion of the nipple – the nipple turning inward.
  • Red, scaly, itchy skin that resembles the texture of an orange.
  • Skin that's hot to the touch.
  • Discharge from the nipple.

If you find any of these signs and symptoms, please tell your doctor.

Breast cancer types

There are many types of breast cancer, and HonorHealth physicians treat them all. Among them are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ.
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Triple negative breast cancer.
  • Paget disease of the nipple.
  • Phyllodes tumor.
  • Angiosarcoma.
  • Invasive breast carcinoma.

Breast cancer treatments

At HonorHealth, you don’t just get one doctor who plans your treatment. You get a team of 30-50 breast cancer specialists who map out your customized treatment plan. The team may include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, geneticists, dietitians, navigators and reproductive endocrinologists. Your team will evaluate your tumor's proteins, properties and vulnerabilities that may respond best to one or more of the following:

  • Surgery: The most common treatment for breast cancer is surgery. HonorHealth surgeons have access to unique technologies that allow them to save healthy tissue through precision targeting during surgery.
    • With a lumpectomy, the surgeon removes the tumor and surrounding tissue until the margins of the incision are free of cancer cells.
    • With a mastectomy, the surgeon removes the entire breast. Lymph nodes near the breast also may need removal if cancer cells have spread there. If you decide on breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, you can start it when you have the mastectomy or choose to do it later.
  • Chemotherapy: Not everyone with breast cancer needs chemotherapy. Your HonorHealth specialists will determine if it's the best option for you. If chemo is needed, it may be delivered through an IV at scheduled appointments. When appropriate, chemo can instead be delivered through a pill you take at home. Typically, if you have a tumor that's five centimeters or larger, you'll need traditional intravenous chemotherapy. Your physician can choose from a wide variety of drugs to effectively treat your breast cancer. A "cocktail" of more than one chemo drug may be customized for your cancer.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy sends high doses of radiation to the area where your tumor was, or is, to kill cancer cells. You might undergo radiation before surgery to shrink the tumor, but most patients have radiation after surgery — particularly after a lumpectomy. Your HonorHealth radiation oncologist will advise you on the number of doses and appointments you'll need. Depending on your cancer's type and stage, radiation can be delivered by external beam or internally through brachytherapy, the insertion of sealed needles, seeds, wires or catheters placed in or near the tumor.
  • Clinical trials: The HonorHealth Research Institute works closely with pharmaceutical companies and other partners on groundbreaking new drugs and treatments. Through clinical trials, you can have access to the newest drugs available and help test new treatments. Your care team may encourage you to seek out a clinical trial as soon as you're diagnosed — clinical trials no longer are a last resort. Here's a listing of current clinical trials focused on breast cancer.
  • Targeted therapies: Targeted breast cancer therapies focus on specific characteristics of cancer cells such as a protein that signals cancer cells to grow quickly or abnormally. Another way is to block the growth of new blood vessels required by cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapies generally are less likely to harm normal, healthy cells. Some targeted therapies are antibodies that work like those produced by your immune system.
  • Hormone therapy: It can slow or stop the growth of hormone-sensitive breast cancer tumors by:
    • Blocking your ability to produce hormones.
    • Interfering with hormone action.

    Tamoxifen and raloxifene are oral hormone therapy drugs shown to reduce the recurrence of breast cancer.

Causes and risk factors

Commonly identified risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Age: Most breast cancers occur in women over 50.
  • Sex: Breast cancer affects women 100 times more often than men.
  • Family history: Cases of breast cancer in your family, especially someone who had breast cancer before 40. This includes men.
  • Personal history of breast cancer.
  • Menstruating at an early age.
  • Starting menopause after age 55.
  • Being overweight.
  • Late pregnancy or never being pregnant.
  • Having dense breasts.
  • Use of oral contraceptives.
  • Alcohol use: The more you drink, the greater your risk.

Genetics and breast cancer

Only 5-10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary. However, understanding your genetics will help you and your physician take the best steps to prevent or treat the disease. Consider that:

  • Researchers have studied genetic links to breast cancer, finding that only about 10 percent of breast cancer cases are related to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. The overwhelming majority of breast cancers have unknown causes.
  • If you develop breast cancer and discover you have BRCA1 or BRCA2, your HonorHealth doctors will be especially aggressive with it. BRCA-positive cancer is more likely to develop into triple negative breast cancer or into a second cancer elsewhere in the body or in the other breast.
  • If you're concerned about passing on a breast cancer gene mutation to a child, you can turn to an HonorHealth reproductive endocrinologist. The specialist can harvest a breast cancer patient's eggs, test them for breast cancer genetic mutations, and store the ones testing negative for future implantation.

HonorHealth offers genetic counseling for breast cancer in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Call 480-882-4703.

Breast cancer support services

The HonorHealth Virginia G. Piper Cancer Care Network offers many support services that can help you, your family and caregivers before, during and after treatment. Professionals can help you navigate through the medical decisions you'll face. Social workers can help you with a variety of psychological and social issues associated with your cancer treatment and recovery.

At HonorHealth support groups for breast cancer patients, you can talk to other patients about their experiences, meet with patients with a similar cancer, and learn strategies for staying strong through the process.