Signs & Symptoms
Every person should know the symptoms and signs of breast cancer, and any time an abnormality is discovered, it should be investigated by a healthcare professional.
Most people who have breast cancer symptoms and signs will initially notice only one or two, and the presence of these symptoms and signs do not automatically mean that you have breast cancer.
By performing monthly breast self-exams, you will be able to more easily identify any changes in your breast. Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you notice anything unusual
A change in how the breast or nipple feels
• Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
• A change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast (some describe this as similar to an orange peel’s texture)
• A lump in the breast (It’s important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional, but not all lumps are cancerous.)
A change in the breast or nipple appearance
• Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
• Dimpling anywhere on the breast
• Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if on one side only)
• Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only)
• Recent asymmetry of the breasts (Although it is common for women to have one breast that is slightly larger than the other, if the onset of asymmetry is recent, it should be checked.)
• Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted
• Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges or pitting resembling the skin of an orange
Any nipple discharge- particularly clear discharge or bloody discharge
It is also important to note that a milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by her doctor, although it is not linked with breast cancer.
If I have some symptoms, is it likely to be cancer? Many symptoms of breast cancer, such as breast pain or a lump, may in fact be caused by normal breast changes or a benign (not cancer) breast condition. However, any breast cancer symptom you notice should be investigated as soon as it is discovered.
If I have no symptoms, should I assume I do not have cancer? Although there’s no need to worry, regular screenings are always important. Your doctor can check for breast cancer before you have any noticeable symptoms. During your office visit, your doctor will ask about your personal and family medical history and perform a physical examination. In addition, your doctor may order one or more imaging tests, such as a mammogram.
Methods of Diagnosis
A mammogram is an x-ray that allows a qualified specialist to examine the breast tissue for any suspicious areas. In a diagnostic mammogram, more x-rays are taken, providing views of the breast from multiple vantage points.
A breast ultrasound is a scan that uses penetrating sound waves that do not affect or damage the tissue and cannot be heard by humans.
During a breast MRI, a magnet connected to a computer transmits magnetic energy and radio waves (not radiation) through the breast tissue. It scans the tissue, making detailed pictures of areas within the breast.
A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or sometimes fluid from the suspicious area. The removed cells are examined under a microscope and further tested to check for the presence of breast cancer.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor may order additional lab tests to assist with prognosis.
Waiting for results
Waiting for the results of biopsy testing, scans, or lab tests can understandably weigh heavily on your mind. Some people cope by educating themselves and trying to map out their possible options; others reduce stress by distracting themselves with whatever feels fun; still others find the waiting time provides the opportunity to assess their priorities or deepen meaningful relationships.
• Evaluate how you are spending your emotional energy and reduce “optional” stress.
• Treat yourself to healthy food.
• Go for a walk or continue to get exercise if you can.
• Seek support from others who have been in similar situations.
• Calm your mind with meditation, prayer, or thoughts that bring you a sense of peacefulness.
Next week we will give information on breast cancer treatments.
For more information: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/about-breast-cancer