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Female breast cancer
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Female breast cancer

Contributors: Amirah Khan MD, David Peritz MD, Paritosh Prasad MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-associated mortality in women worldwide and is the most common cause of cancer in the United States and the second most common cancer worldwide (after lung cancer). The incidence of female breast cancer is about 124.7 per 100 000 patients. Male breast cancer is much less prevalent. Breast cancer is rarely diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, and the incidence increases with age. Since the average lifetime risk of the diagnosis of breast cancer is around 12.4%, screening is recommended for average-risk individuals beginning at age 50. In average-risk individuals between ages 40 and 50, screening may be pursued after discussion with the primary care provider, weighing the benefits and risks. Screening is done with mammography.

Risk factors associated with breast cancer include genetic predisposition (eg, BRCA1, BRCA2, PTEN, TP53 mutations; very large studies show that mutations in dozens of genes may be associated with increased breast cancer risk), increasing age, Northern European descent, obesity in postmenopausal women, family history of breast / ovarian / peritoneal cancer, and personal history of ovarian, breast, or peritoneal cancer.

In countries with established screening programs, the majority of breast cancers present due to abnormal mammogram findings. Despite this, almost 1 in 6 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer present with a breast mass not detected by mammogram, and a little under 1 in 3 will present with a mass that developed in the interval between mammograms.

Breast cancer typically presents as a painless, immobile breast lump or abnormality found on mammography. In more advanced cases, it can present with bloody nipple discharge, axillary lymphadenopathy, thickening and erythema of the skin (peau d'orange appearance), and metastatic disease commonly found in bone, liver, and lungs. Metastasis to the bone marrow may be associated with anemia. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is considered a precursor lesion and is confined to breast ducts and lobules.

The diagnosis of breast cancer is made based on malignant-appearing cells found on biopsy. The treatment of breast cancer varies according to stage of disease as well as histologic and genetic subtype of the malignancy. Common histologic subtypes include infiltrating ductal carcinoma, infiltrating lobular carcinoma, and mixed ductal / lobular carcinoma. Tumor expression of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2) is used to predict outcomes and guide treatment.

Related topic: cutaneous breast cancer


C50.919 – Malignant neoplasm of unspecified site of unspecified female breast

254837009 – Malignant tumor of breast

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Breast cyst
  • Fibroadenoma of breast
  • Fibrocystic tissue (see Fibrocystic disease of the breast)
  • Fat necrosis
  • Galactocele
  • Breast sarcoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Paget disease of breast
  • Phyllodes tumors
  • Cutaneous presentations of breast cancer
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ
  • Microinvasive breast cancer

Best Tests

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Management Pearls

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Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Reviewed:04/17/2019
Last Updated:10/16/2023
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Female breast cancer
A medical illustration showing key findings of Female breast cancer : Nipple discharge, Breast lump
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.