Breast Cancer Characteristics

If, based on the test results, your doctors determine that the abnormality is breast cancer, they will look at a wide range of factors in considering the most effective course of treatment.

Factors your doctors will consider

  • Your age
  • Whether you’re menstruating or are in menopause
  • Your general state of health
  • The size of your breasts
  • The size and location of the tumor
  • The stage of the tumor — or the extent to which it has spread into neighboring tissues, lymph nodes, or distant areas of the body
  • The grade of the tumor — that is, how different the cancer cells are from normal cells and how quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread
  • Whether the lymph nodes in your armpits are enlarged

Breast cancer characteristics

Did you Know?

Did you know that female hormones can cause certain breast cancers to grow?

Learn more about the relationship between the hormone estrogen and breast cancer

The cancer will also be tested for a number of other characteristics that can help your doctors decide how it is likely to respond to particular kinds of treatment or how aggressive it may be. These include:

Hormone receptivity. These tests determine whether the cancer cells contain estrogen and/or progesterone receptors. Those that do may respond well to hormone therapies that block the production of female hormones in the body. Learn how hormone therapy works to treat hormone-receptive breast cancers.

Tumor-marker testing/immunohistochemistry (IHC). Also known as human epidermal growth factor 2, or c-erB-2, Her2/neu is a protein necessary for normal cell growth. However, some cancers — including some breast cancers — produce too much of this protein.

Your Diagnosis

Learn more about how an accurate diagnosis is essential to effective treatment in Your Guide to Cancer Care.

High levels of HER2/neu often mean that a tumor is more aggressive, and may respond differently to certain cancer treatments. For example, women with high levels of HER2/neu may be good candidates for certain biological therapies. Learn more about biological therapies in breast cancer treatment.

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