Breast Cancer: In this article we’ll explore the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer, what happens next, and where to find support.
Although breast cancer generally shows no symptoms in the early stage, ideal detection can transform a story of breast cancer into a survivor’s tale.
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Early Signs of Breast Cancer
Early on, a person may see a change in their breast when they perform a monthly breast exam or when minor abnormal pain doesn’t appear to go away. Early signs of breast cancer to search for include:
■ Changes in the shape of the nipple.
■ Breast pain that doesn’t go away after your next period.
■ A new lump that doesn’t go away after your next period.
■ Nipple discharge from one breast that’s clear, red, brown, or yellow.
■ Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast.
■ Swelling or a lump around the collarbone or under the arm.
A lump that’s hard with irregular edges is more prone to be cancerous.
Later signs of breast cancer
Later signs of breast cancer include:
■ Retraction, or inward turning of the nipple.
■ Enlargement of one breast.
■ Dimpling of the breast surface.
■ An existing lump that gets greater.
■ An “orange strip” surface to the skin.
■ Poor appetite.
■ Unintentional weight reduction.
■ Enlarged lymph hubs in the armpit.
■ Noticeable veins on the breast.
Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Nipple discharge, for example, can also be caused by an infection. See a doctor for a total evaluation in the event that you experience any of these signs and symptoms.
What is a “normal” breast?
As you would think, there’s really no such thing as a “normal” breast. Everyone’s breasts are unique. Along these lines, when we talk about normal, we mean normal for you. It’s about how your breasts usually look and believe and what it could mean when this changes.
Worth noting it’s generally expected to encounter breast changes during ovulation. This may have to do with extra liquid retention, which can cause:
■ Tenderness, soreness
These symptoms ought to determine after you start your period.
Regular self-checks can assist you with getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel so you’ll perceive changes early on. This is what to search for:
■ Distinction in overall size, shape, or color of your breasts
■ Dimpling or bulging of the skin
■ Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
■ Nipple inversion, unusual discharge
Step by step instructions to perform a breast self-check
■ Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders straight and arms on your hips. Visually inspect your breasts.
■ Repeat with your arms raised.
■ Rests on your back to feel your breasts. In the first place, utilize your right hand to really look at your left breast. Utilize the pads of your fingers and move in a circular motion to feel for lumps or other changes. Make certain to cover the whole breast, from the focal point of your chest to your armpit and from your abdomen to your collarbone.
■ Repeat using your passed on hand to really look at your right breast.
■ Repeat while standing or sitting. You could find it easier to do this in the shower.
What Do Lumps in My Breast Mean?
Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast, including cancer. But most breast lumps are caused by other medical conditions. The two most common causes of breast lumps are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Fibrocystic condition causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, tender, and sore. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Doctors know that breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells may spread (metastasize) through your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.
Breast cancer most often begins with cells in the milk-producing ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma). Breast cancer may also begin in the glandular tissue called lobules (invasive lobular carcinoma) or in other cells or tissue within the breast.
Researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer. But it’s not clear why some people who have no risk factors develop cancer, yet other people with risk factors never do. It’s likely that breast cancer is caused by a complex interaction of your genetic makeup and your environment.
Inherited breast cancer
Doctors estimate that about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations passed through generations of a family.
A number of inherited mutated genes that can increase the likelihood of breast cancer have been identified. The most well-known are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), both of which significantly increase the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or other cancers, your doctor may recommend a blood test to help identify specific mutations in BRCA or other genes that are being passed through your family.
Consider asking your doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor, who can review your family health history. A genetic counselor can also discuss the benefits, risks and limitations of genetic testing to assist you with shared decision-making.
A breast cancer risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you’ll get breast cancer. But having one or even several breast cancer risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop breast cancer. Many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than simply being women.
Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:
■ Being female. Women are much more likely than men are to develop breast cancer.
■ Increasing age. Your risk of breast cancer increases as you age.
■ A personal history of breast conditions. If you’ve had a breast biopsy that found lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia of the breast, you have an increased risk of breast cancer.
■ A personal history of breast cancer. If you’ve had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
■ A family history of breast cancer. If your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly at a young age, your risk of breast cancer is increased. Still, the majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
■ Inherited genes that increase cancer risk. Certain gene mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer can be passed from parents to children. The most well-known gene mutations are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes can greatly increase your risk of breast cancer and other cancers, but they don’t make cancer inevitable.
■ Radiation exposure. If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer is increased.
■ Obesity. Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer.
■ Beginning your period at a younger age. Beginning your period before age 12 increases your risk of breast cancer.
■ Beginning menopause at an older age. If you began menopause at an older age, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer.
■ Having your first child at an older age. Women who give birth to their first child after age 30 may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
■ Have never been pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of breast cancer than do women who have had one or more pregnancies.
■ Postmenopausal hormone therapy. Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer decreases when women stop taking these medications.
■ Drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk reduction for women with an average risk
Making changes in your daily life may help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Try to:
■ Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening. Discuss with your doctor when to begin breast cancer screening exams and tests, such as clinical breast exams and mammograms.Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of screening. Together, you can decide what breast cancer screening strategies are right for you.
■ Become familiar with your breasts through breast self-exam for breast awareness. Women may choose to become familiar with their breasts by occasionally inspecting their breasts during a breast self-exam for breast awareness. If there is a new change, lumps or other unusual signs in your breasts, talk to your doctor promptly.Breast awareness can’t prevent breast cancer, but it may help you to better understand the normal changes that your breasts undergo and identify any unusual signs and symptoms.
■ Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day, if you choose to drink.
■ Exercise most days of the week. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. If you haven’t been active lately, ask your doctor whether it’s OK and start slowly.
■ Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone therapy.Some women experience bothersome signs and symptoms during menopause and, for these women, the increased risk of breast cancer may be acceptable in order to relieve menopause signs and symptoms.To reduce the risk of breast cancer, use the lowest dose of hormone therapy possible for the shortest amount of time.
■ Maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain that weight. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy strategies to accomplish this. Reduce the number of calories you eat each day and slowly increase the amount of exercise.
■ Choose a healthy diet. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, over butter and fish instead of red meat.
Diagnosing breast cancer
Doctors often use additional tests to find or diagnose breast cancer. They may refer women to a breast specialist or a surgeon. This does not mean that she has cancer or that she needs surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems.
■ Breast ultrasound. A machine that uses sound waves to make pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.
■ Diagnostic mammogram. If you have a problem in your breast, such as lumps, or if an area of the breast looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, doctors may have you get a diagnostic mammogram. This is a more detailed X-ray of the breast.
■ Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A kind of body scan that uses a magnet linked to a computer. The MRI scan will make detailed pictures of areas inside the breast.
■ Biopsy. This is a test that removes tissue or fluid from the breast to be looked at under a microscope and do more testing. There are different kinds of biopsies (for example, fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, or open biopsy).
Staging breast cancer
Once your doctor has diagnosed your breast cancer, he or she works to establish the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer’s stage helps determine your prognosis and the best treatment options.
Complete information about your cancer’s stage may not be available until after you undergo breast cancer surgery.
Tests and procedures used to stage breast cancer may include:
■ Blood tests, such as a complete blood count
■ Mammogram of the other breast to look for signs of cancer
■ Breast MRI
■ Bone scan
■ Computerized tomography (CT) scan
■ Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Not all women will need all of these tests and procedures. Your doctor selects the appropriate tests based on your specific circumstances and taking into account new symptoms you may be experiencing.
Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV with 0 indicating cancer that is noninvasive or contained within the milk ducts. Stage IV breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
Breast cancer staging also takes into account your cancer’s grade; the presence of tumor markers, such as receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2; and proliferation factors.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.
■ Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
■ Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
■ Hormonal therapy. Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
■ Biological therapy. Works with your body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
■ Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer cells.
Doctors from different specialties often work together to treat breast cancer. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with medicine. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation.
When to see a doctor
If you find a lump or other change in your breast — even if a recent mammogram was normal — make an appointment with your doctor for prompt evaluation.
Preparing for your appointment
Consulting with your health care team
Women with breast cancer may have appointments with their primary care doctors as well as several other doctors and health professionals, including:
■ Breast health specialists
■ Breast surgeons
■ Doctors who specialize in diagnostic tests, such as mammograms (radiologists)
■ Doctors who specialize in treating cancer (oncologists)
■ Doctors who treat cancer with radiation (radiation oncologists)
■ Genetic counselors
■ Plastic surgeons
What you can do to prepare
■ Write down any symptoms you’re experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
■ Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
■ Write down your family history of cancer. Note any family members who have had cancer, including how each member is related to you, the type of cancer, the age at diagnosis and whether each person survived.
■ Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you’re taking.
■ Keep all of your records that relate to your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Organize your records in a binder or folder that you can take to your appointments.
■ Consider taking a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to absorb all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
■ Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For breast cancer, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
■ What type of breast cancer do I have?
■ What is the stage of my cancer?
■ Can you explain my pathology report to me? Can I have a copy for my records?
■ Do I need any more tests?
■ What treatment options are available for me?
■ What are the benefits from each treatment you recommend?
■ What are the side effects of each treatment option?
■ Will treatment cause menopause?
■ How will each treatment affect my daily life? Can I continue working?
■ Is there one treatment you recommend over the others?
■ How do you know that these treatments will benefit me?
■ What would you recommend to a friend or family member in my situation?
■ How quickly do I need to make a decision about cancer treatment?
■ What happens if I don’t want cancer treatment?
■ What will cancer treatment cost?
■ Does my insurance plan cover the tests and treatment you’re recommending?
■ Should I seek a second opinion? Will my insurance cover it?
■ Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites or books do you recommend?
■ Are there any clinical trials or newer treatments that I should consider?
In addition to the questions that you’ve prepared to ask your doctor, don’t hesitate to ask additional questions that may occur to you during your appointment.