Advocate Christ Medical Center
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Breast Cancer

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. However, more women are surviving breast cancer than ever before-thanks to newer methods for early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

At Advocate Christ Medical Center, we see over 350 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer each year.  This experience, combined with high-tech options and compassionate care makes Christ Medical Center a trusted resource for breast health in Chicagoland.

Located at 4545 West 103rd Street in Oak Lawn, the Center for Breast Care at Christ Medical Center is a facility dedicated to women's breast health and designed with women's needs in mind: comfort, convenience and the highest quality care. Within this healing environment, women have access to a full array of state-of-the-art diagnostic services, genetic risk counseling, and the expertise of a multidisciplinary team, all focused on timely, responsive and effective care.

How is it diagnosed?
How is it treated?
How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?
Frequenstly Asked Questions
Genetic Cancer Risk Assessment Program

How is it diagnosed?

Most lumps or changes in the breast are benign (not cancerous). However, it is important to tell your doctor about any changes in your breast. Today's advanced diagnostic tools can find tumors that are too tiny to feel. However, the most effective way to detect breast cancer early is through a combination of self breast exams and regular mammograms.

For women with normal risk for breast cancer (those who don't have a family history or genetic risk), annual screening mammograms typically are the first step in diagnosis. The American Cancer Society recommends screenings mammograms every year beginning at age 40. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast.

The Advocate Christ Center for Breast Care offers digital mammography which creates more clear images than traditional film mammography, to help detect cancerous cells and microcalcifications at a smaller stage and in denser breast tissue. The digital image is stored in a computer, so it can be easily sent to your primary doctor or our breast specialists. Digital technology also exposes the patient to less radiation than traditional film mammography.

Women at a higher risk for breast cancer should speak with their doctor about more frequent and more advanced screening tests. Advocate Christ Medical Center has a genetic cancer risk assessment program that offers genetic counseling and testing for families who are at risk for breast cancer.

If a mammogram indicates any abnormalities or areas of suspicion, your doctor will recommend further testing. Testing may include any of the following:

  • Diagnostic mammography-an X-ray of the breast, which can detect a tumor as tiny as a pinhead up to two years before it can be felt and offers imaging for women with dense breast tissue. Digital mammography uses less radiation than older film mammography technology.  Ultrasound-uses high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of the breast.
  • Scintimammography-a specialized nuclear radiology procedure (breast scan).  The procedure uses a tiny amount of radioactive substance, which is then absorbed into the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-uses a combination of special high-power magnets, radiofrequencies and computer technology to produce detailed images.
  • Ultrasound - uses soundwaves to create a picture of the breast. Solid tumors and cysts are viable on the ultrasound image.
  • 3D Mammography which provides a more detailed and accurate view of the breast, allows doctors to more effectively pinpoint the size, shape and location of any abnormalities. This new technology also benefits women with dense breast tissue that can be more difficult to screen with traditional mammography.

Your doctor also may recommend a type of biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of tissue or fluid and then analyzing it for certain protein markers and properties.  These biopsies may be guided by ultrasound or other imaging methods to assure the best accuracy. 

  • Stereotactic (percutaneous) biopsy-combines computer technology and mammography to create a 2-D image of the breast.  A small sample of tissue is then removed with a probe.  Stereotactic biopsy can help biopsy microcalcifications less than 1 mm in size (smaller than four-tenths of an inch)
  • Sentinel node biopsy- technology used to determine whether cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes.  The procedure involves injecting dye or a radioactive substance near the tumor (sentinel node) to locate lymph nodes closer to the tumor site. The surgeon removes the lymph node and the pathologist analyzes it for the presence of cancer cells.  Because of its ability to determine whether the axillary lymph nodes are clear of cancer, sentinel node biopsy can help spare women from unnecessary surgical procedures or more extensive radiation therapy.
  • Fine needle biopsy-uses a hair-thin needle to extract tissue sample through a tiny slit incision.
  • Core needle biopsy-uses a larger needle to extract a small cylinder of tissue.  A tiny slit incision is required.
  • Surgical (open) biopsy-part or all of a lump or suspicious area is removed through a larger incision in the breast.

With any type of biopsy, the tissue or fluid sample is then analyzed by a pathologist to carefully determine whether or not suspicious cells are cancerous.  Pathology testing also identifies molecular and protein characteristics that are important considerations for defining the cancer stage and determining the best treatment approaches.

How is it treated?

In most cases, surgery is a primary treatment for breast cancer.  Depending on the cancer stage and other diagnostic details determined by pathology tests, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy also may be recommended as part of the treatment plan.

There are several different types of surgery including breast-sparing ("breast conservation") techniques such as lumpectomy or a partial mastectomy your doctor may recommend more complete removal of the breast through mastectomy.  Which surgery is most appropriate is usually determined by factors such as the size and location of the tumor, whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body, the size of the breast, other risk factors such as genetic risk or family cancer history, and the woman's personal preference.

Surgical procedures available at Christ Medical Center include:

  • Lumpectomy-removal of the tumor itself and a portion of normal tissue around the cancer.  The surgeon also may remove some of the axillary lymph nodes under the arm to determine if the cancer has spread.
  • Partial mastectomy-removal of the cancer and a larger portion of normal breast tissue surrounding the tumor.  The surgeon also may remove the lining over the chest muscles adjacent to the tumor location, as well as some axillary lymph nodes.
  • Total (or simple) mastectomy-removal of the entire breast including the nipple, the areola, and most of the overlying skin.  Also may include removal of some axillary lymph nodes under the arm.
  • Modified radical mastectomy-removal of the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), some of the lymph nodes under the arm (also called the axillary lymph glands), and the lining over the chest muscles.
  • Radical mastectomy-removal of the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), the axillary lymph nodes under the arm, and the chest muscles. For many years, radical mastectomy was the standard operation. Today, however, radical mastectomy is rarely performed; it is generally only used when the breast cancer has spread to the chest muscles.

Reconstructive Surgery
Many women choose reconstructive surgery as a key element of their treatment plan.  Depending on the cancer stage and other factors, breast reconstruction may be performed at the same time the tumor is surgically removed or during a later surgery.   Plastic and reconstructive surgeons offer many different options for reconstructive surgery, and will discuss with you the potential benefits and disadvantages of appropriate options to restore breast appearance.

Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is often part of the treatment plan for breast cancer.  Radiation therapy uses a form of radiation to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors. State-of-the-art radiation oncology departments can offer many different methods for delivering ionizing radiation to the cancer site.

External radiation (external beam therapy) works from outside the body and is administered on an outpatient basis, usually several times per week over a period of several weeks. The radiation oncology center may use a linear accelerator to deliver X-ray radiation beams.  Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiation therapy and intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) are forms of external radiation therapy.

Internal radiation therapy (also called brachytherapy or interstitial radiation therapy) involves placing radioactive isotopes in the form of small seeds, rods or catheter inside the body, very close to the tumor.  Depending on the method used, patients may stay in the hospital for several days during the duration of this radiation therapy. However, internal radiation takes a few days, compared to weeks for the external method.

Among the newest innovations in radiation oncology for breast cancer is the SAVITM   applicator, a partial breast irradiation used to treat women with early-stage breast cancer.  A catheter is inserted into the tumor site.  Radioactive isotopes can then be inserted into the catheter to directly target any remaining cancer cells.  The procedure usually is done twice a day for five days.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer medications to destroy cancer cells.  Usually, chemotherapy is given intravenously, although it also can be administered orally with a pill, or as a shot into the muscle or tissue.  Chemotherapy treatment is usually given in cycles over weeks or even months.  Because chemotherapy is systemic, it can affect the entire body-not just the tumor site.  Therefore, patients sometimes experience side effects such as nausea or loss of appetite.  Taxol and tamoxifen are chemotherapy agents that are given to many women with breast cancer.

Hormone Therapy:
Hormone therapy is sometimes used to help prevent the growth, spread and recurrence of breast cancer.  Because the female hormone estrogen is known to increase the growth of cancer cells in some women with breast cancer, therapy that specifically targets the hormone may be effective.  Hormone therapy may be considered for women whose breast cancer test positive for estrogen or progesterone receptors.


How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?

Advocate Christ Medical Center brings together a multitude of state-of-the-art resources, multidisciplinary expertise, and compassionate personalized care for women with breast cancer-all in one convenient location. Here, women find some of the most advanced technologies available in cancer care-including technologies you'd expect to see only at leading academic hospitals.

Our Center for Breast Care is a stand-alone building that provides a comforting, private environment focused exclusively on women and breast health. Situated close to the main medical center, the Center for Breast Care is open six days a week, including evening hours. From getting a digital mammography or other diagnostic procedures, to meeting with a team of breast specialists, to finding support for emotional healing-it's all right here.

We understand that finding a breast lump or hearing that your mammogram is "abnormal" is frightening, and that the wait for answers can seem painstakingly long.  Advocate Christ Medical Center provides prompt yet thorough answers.  We are committed to minimizing the wait for results and easing your anxiety.  If there is a concern from the screening mammogram, we often can schedule a biopsy that same day and other follow-up testing within 24 to 48 hours, so you can get vital information as quickly as possible. Most lumps turn out to be benign.  For those that are not benign, it's not unusual for women to move from initial detection via abnormal mammogram through biopsy and other diagnostic procedures and then to scheduled surgery within 10 days.  You also can be assured that doctors at Christ Medical Center will keep your primary physician informed about any findings or treatment recommendations.

A breast health nurse specialist serves as a personal patient navigator to coordinate and streamline all tests, services and consultations with the physicians, often on the same day for patient convenience.  The breast health nurses specialist also is available at any time to answer questions.

Every breast cancer patient at Advocate Christ Medical Center benefits from the collective opinion of a team of experts-medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, breast surgeons, plastic and reconstructive surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, geneticists, psychologists, oncology nurses and others dedicated to finding the very best options for each individual's situation.  Our weekly Breast Conferences mean this multidisciplinary team meets formally every week to consider all potential treatment options for new and existing patients.

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