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What is breast cancer?

In order to gain a better understanding of the diagnosis and the treatment options available, it is helpful to be familiar with the most important terminology. In addition to the definitions below, we have compiled a glossary of further specialist terms which can be accessed via the following link: Glossar.


“Breast cancer” is the term used to describe a disease which usually occurs in the form of a tumour in the breast. Three-quarters of all breast tumours are benign, i.e. non-cancerous.

The term “tumour” refers to a growth consisting of abnormal cells. To find out what causes cells to become abnormal, please click on the menu item “Tumour development”.

Benign breast tumours

In most cases, benign tumours can be removed without difficulty and there is no risk of secondary tumours (metastases) forming. Benign cell changes often develop in connective tissue and are known as “fibromas”. They can also occur in fat tissue, in which case they are referred to as “lipomas”. Other common types of benign tissue changes are cysts ─ fluid-filled encapsulated sacs in the tissue.

Malignant breast tumours

The term “breast cancer” refers to malignant tumours of the breast. These changes originate in the glandular tissue in the breast. Around 60 per cent of all malignant tumours develop in the upper outside quadrant, i.e. the part of the breast nearest the armpit.

Incidence of breast cancer

In industrialised countries, breast cancer is the commonest form of cancer affecting women and also the commonest cause of death in women between the ages of 35 and 55. Around 70,000 new cases of breast cancer are recorded in Germany every year. Statistically, that means 1 in 8 women in Germany contract breast cancer at some time in their lives.

Patient Guide issued by the German Working Groups for Gynaecological Oncology (Arbeitsgemeinschaften Gynäkologische Onkologie e.V. ─ AGO)

The AGO Breast Committee publishes its current official recommendations concerning breast cancer on an annual basis. This information is summarised in plain language in the Patient Guide and will help you when discussing the diagnosis and the possible treatment options available at various stages of the disease. The guide can be downloaded here


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