Breast cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. Breast cancer can be found in either the ducts or the lobules. Sometimes it is in both areas. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.

[DOG BARKING] I felt a lump in my breast early in the summer of 2018 and called my general practitioners office. And between when seeing my doctor, I think it was a Monday morning, by Tuesday afternoon, I had had a biopsy, and by Wednesday midday had a confirmed diagnosis that I had breast cancer. My general practitioner was part of the Allina system. And so my full medical team was working together to better understand the diagnosis and figure out treatment options.

It's really hard to tell your family and your close friends about a diagnosis, particularly when you don't yet know enough to know what your outcomes might look like, what your treatment plan might look like. The hard part was telling them. And then at that point, they all kind of rallied and stepped up however they could and how I needed them to, which was great.

I did my double mastectomy on February 14th, Valentine's Day. That was the day I was officially declared no evidence of disease, cancer-free, what people think of as sort of the start of that remission clock. That's the day I celebrate it. Ultimately, for me, I realized how much of an impact my medical care team had on my experience, and wanted to be able to provide that, as well. So I joined the Cancer Patient Advisory Board at Allina, which connected me with the decision-makers at Allina's Cancer Health Institute, and thinking about the decisions they were making and being able to provide a patient voice, help others going through it.

The Breasties is a national organization focused on helping connect people whose lives are impacted by breast and gynecological cancers. We've been doing monthly meetups for women across the Twin Cities and across greater Minnesota to get together and just have the conversations that are harder to have with your friends or your family who haven't been through it. And it's been a great way to build a community in Minnesota and navigate that path. And you don't have to do it alone.

I'm so glad that I had a care team that understood that I still had to live my life. I grew up playing lacrosse. And when I got out of college and still wanted to be involved in the sport, that was how I got connected in coaching lacrosse. And I've coached ever since.

When I was diagnosed, I was diagnosed kind of right at the end of the summer season. And the players we had had that year found out via Instagram. And pretty quickly, that set of fifth and sixth graders at the time rallied and said, OK, like, we're going to put a team together for the Making Strides walk in October. And they got t-shirts made. And man, they showed up in a really great way to be supportive, and I think proved that it's not just about what we're doing on the field. It goes beyond.

I think, first and foremost, ask questions. It can be really easy to be timid in the whole process, knowing that you're surrounded by a bunch of experts. And you've got to feel OK with what you're going through. And hopefully, you only have to do it once, so do it right. And make sure you feel good about the care team you have and the treatment plan you've got, because you're the only one living through it.


breast cancer patient wearing mask learning about breast cancer symptoms

Breast cancer risk factors

For every disease, there are certain risk factors that increase the chance you will get the disease. The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but there are things that put women at increased risk. There are some risks you cannot control and others you can control.

Breast cancer risks you cannot control

  • being a woman
  • getting older
  • history of breast cancer in your family (mother, grandmother, aunt, sister)
  • member(s) of your family developed breast cancer before age 40
  • certain inherited genes
  • personal history of atypical cells in your breast
  • dense breasts
  • exposure to estrogen (early menstruation, older age at birth of first child, late menopause)
  • had radiation therapy to your chest

Breast cancer risks you can control

  • being obese
  • drinking alcohol
  • getting enough exercise
  • using tobacco
  • hormone replacement therapy that combines estrogen with progestin
doctor in mask who works at allina health cancer center

Breast cancer symptoms

Signs of breast cancer include a lump or change in the breast. Talk with your health care provider if you have any of the following:

  • a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast
  • a dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange
  • a nipple turned inward into the breast
  • fluid, other than breastmilk, from the nipple, especially if it is bloody
  • the skin on the breast, areola, or nipple is scaly, red or swollen

Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. However, if you have pain that does not go away, call your health care provider to talk about your symptoms.

woman getting screened for breast cancer

Breast cancer screening schedule for women at average risk for breast cancer

When to start having mammograms to screen for breast cancer and how often to have them is a personal decision. It should be based on your preferences, your values and your risk for developing breast cancer.

Allina Health recommends that you and your health care provider together determine when mammograms are right for you.

Allina Health’s mammogram screening guidelines are based on the 2015 American Cancer Society recommendations:

  • Age 25: Have a risk assessment for breast cancer with your health care provider.
  • Ages 40 to 44: Should consider having a mammogram every year with your decision informed by a shared decision making process with your health care provider. During this process, your provider will explain the benefits and harms of screening.
  • Ages 45 to 54: Have a mammogram every year.
  • Age 55 and older: Have a mammogram every year or transition to having one every two years. 

Continue to have mammograms as long as your health is good. Your doctor may recommend a different schedule if you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer.

woman doing stretches

Breast cancer prevention

You can help prevent breast cancer.

  • Get regular screening mammograms.
  • Learn if you have a history of breast cancer in your family.
  • Eat well-balanced meals that include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.

Talk with your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

woman with arms spread out at ocean for cancer testimonial
As a cancer survivor, I had an “Ah-Ha!” moment, a kick in the pants, that life is short. I gained the confidence to speak up more and developed a take-charge attitude. I redefined some roles within my marriage (but I still don’t vacuum)! I also volunteered for a committee at work. There is life after breast cancer! Make the most of it!

Want to know more?

Learn how Allina Health cares for breast cancer patients.

Explore our cancer resources

We created this collection of information and support to help you through this time.