Cancer Care Center

Text Size Increase Text Size Decrease Font Size Print Page

Diseases and Conditions

Breast Cancer Patient Care at BMC

Introduction to Breast Cancer Patient Care at BMC 
What Is Breast Cancer? 
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer? 
What Are the Causes of Breast Cancer? 
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed? 
How Is Breast Cancer Treated? 
Our Team 
Cancer Clinical Trials 
Cancer Support Services 
Patient Navigators, Social Workers and Nutritionists 


At Boston Medical Center (BMC), the care of patients with breast cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. Organizing our services around each patient, we bring together the expertise of diverse specialists to manage your care from your first consultation through treatment and follow-up visits.

In our highly supportive and collaborative environment, experts in breast cancer provide you with the most advanced, coordinated and comprehensive medical care available anywhere—treatment that is effective and innovative in curing and controlling cancer and managing its impact on your quality of life.

At BMC, diagnosis and treatment of patients with breast cancer combines the resources of a multidisciplinary clinical center dedicated to personal, patient-focused care with the state-of-the-art expertise and technological advances of a major teaching hospital. As the primary teaching affiliate of the Boston University School of Medicine, BMC is at the forefront of clinical practice, surgical expertise and research in oncology.

Breast cancer is a treatable disease. In our culture of innovation, collaboration and compassionate care, you will receive treatment from physicians who are nationally recognized leaders in the care of patients with all stages of breast cancer.

To schedule an appointment or refer a patient, call us at 617.638.2778. Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are given appointments within 72 hours.

To learn more about BMC’s breast health program and the Belkin Breast Health Center, winner of the Monroe E. Trout Premier Care Award in 2006 and proud recipient of grants from Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Avon Breast Cancer Foundation, please visit the Belkin Breast Health Center website.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the breasts. Other than skin cancer, it is the most common type of cancer among women living in the United States.

The normal breast is composed of 15 to 20 sections called lobes. Each lobe is made up of smaller sections called lobules. Lobules contain small groups of glands that produce breast milk. Thin tubes, called ducts, carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple. The breast also contains blood and lymph vessels. Lymph vessels are similar to blood vessels, but instead of circulating blood throughout the body, they circulate a clear fluid called lymph. The lobes, lobules, ducts, blood and lymph vessels are surrounded by fatty and connective tissue called stroma.

Cancer cells in the breast form a malignant (cancerous) tumor that appears as a lump. However, not all breast lumps are cancerous. In fact, most breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). Benign breast lumps are abnormal growths that do not spread outside the breast and are generally not life threatening. They can be caused by fibrocystic changes, a combination of cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and fibrosis (the formation of scar-like tissue) in the breast. Benign lumps can be painful and may cause swelling, particularly when a woman is just about to start her menstrual cycle. These changes can also make the breast feel lumpy and cause a clear or slightly cloudy discharge from the nipple.

Most breast cancers are carcinomas, or cancers that begin in the lining of organs. Cancers that start in the glandular tissue (tissue that releases a substance) are called adenocarcinomas. Cancers that start in the connective tissue are called sarcomas. Only a small number of breast cancers are sarcomas.

There are several types of breast cancer, including ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma and inflammatory breast cancer. The term "in situ" means the cancer is confined to the tissue where it began. The term "invasive" refers to cancer that has spread (metastasized) from the layer of tissue where it began into surrounding healthy tissue.

Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS)

Cancer that starts in the lining of the duct but does not grow through the walls of the duct into the surrounding breast tissue and beyond is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The cancer cells cannot spread to the lymph nodes (small, oval-shaped tissues containing certain infection-fighting immune system cells) or other organs. Ductal carcinoma in situ can go on to become invasive cancer. It is sometimes called a pre-cancer. Almost all women diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ can be cured. Many cases are caught by mammograms.

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) 

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) starts in the lining of the duct but breaks through the wall of the duct into the surrounding breast tissue. From there it can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer. Eight in 10 cases of invasive breast cancer are IDC.

Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) 

Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the lining of the lobules. It breaks through the wall of the lobule into the surrounding breast tissue, and from there, it can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. Invasive lobular carcinoma accounts for 1 in 10 cases of invasive breast cancer.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) 

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare but serious form of breast cancer. It accounts for only 1% to 3% of breast cancers. Inflammatory breast cancer causes the skin of the breast to feel warm and look red. It can also give the skin a thick, pitted appearance, similar to the peel of an orange. The breast itself may get bigger or feel tender, itchy or hard. There may not be a single lump or tumor. In its early stages, inflammatory breast cancer is often mistaken for an infection rather than a cancer, and it may not be picked up by a mammogram. The chances of IBC spreading are higher, and the outlook for women who have IBC is worse than for women who have invasive ductal and lobular carcinomas.

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast. Cancerous lumps tend to be painless, hard and have uneven edges, though this isn’t always the case. Lumps that are painful, soft or have rounded edges can also be cancerous, so it is best to have any new changes in the breast looked at by your physician.

Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

With invasive cancers, it is possible for the cancer to spread to nearby lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone. A tumor may form there before the breast tumor is large enough to be felt.

What Are the Causes of Breast Cancer?

Although the exact causes of breast cancer remain unknown, certain risk factors connected to the disease have been identified. Risk factors do not determine whether a person develops a disease, but they can help predict a person’s chances of developing it. Some of these risk factors, such as diet, are within our control, while others, such as age, are not.

Some risk factors for breast cancer include:

Patients with a strong family history of breast cancer may be eligible for genetic counseling. For more information, please visit Genetic Counseling, or talk to your physician to request a referral.


Call: 800.682.2862

Boston Medical Center
Moakley Building
830 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118

Learn More

Quick Links

Directions to BMC
BMC Campus Virtual Tour
Breast Imaging-Mammography
CyberKnife System
Head and Neck Cancer Center of Excellence
Hematology and Medical Oncology
Melanoma Program
Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program
Radiation Oncology
Surgical Oncology
Thoracic Oncology

Downloads (PDF)

BMC Campus Map
What Makes BMC Special
Cancer Program Annual Report 
Cancer Support Services Newsletter and Calendar