Recently, we started a series some interesting facts about breast cancer, the cause, diagnosis, risk factors and all other things need to know. We will continue the series today and hopefully we will finish it in our subsequent article. Get a cup of coffee or tea because this is going to be a long ride.
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. The tumor may be too small to be felt, but an abnormality can be seen on a mammogram. If the tumor can be felt, the first sign is usually a new lump in the breast that was not there before. Not all lumps are cancer. It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you find a lump.
Each type of breast cancer may cause a variety of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are similar, but some can be different. Symptoms for the most common breast cancers include:
- a lump or tissue thickening that feels different than surrounding tissue and has only recently developed
- red, pitted skin over the entire breast
- swelling in all or part of the breast
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk
- bloody discharge from your nipple
- peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on the nipple or breast
- a sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of your breast
- inverted nipple
- changes to the appearance of your breasts’ skin
- a lump or swelling under the arm
If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have breast cancer. Follow up with your doctor for further examination and testing.
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
To determine if your symptoms are caused by breast cancer or a benign breast condition, your doctor will want to conduct a thorough physical examination. They may also request one or more diagnostic tests to help understand what is causing the symptoms you are experiencing.
Tests that can help diagnose breast cancer include:
- Breast exam.Your doctor will conduct a thorough breast exam, checking both breasts for abnormal spots or signs of breast cancer. Your doctor may also check other parts of your body to see if the symptoms you’re experiencing could be related to another condition.
- Perhaps the best way to see below the surface of your breast is with an imaging test called a mammogram. Many women get annual mammograms to check for breast cancer. If your doctor suspects you may have a tumor or suspicious spot, they will also request a mammogram. If an abnormality is seen on your mammogram, your doctor may request additional tests.
- A breast ultrasound creates a picture of the tissues deep in your breast. The ultrasound uses sound waves to do this. An ultrasound can help your doctor distinguish between a solid mass, like a tumor, and a benign cyst.
- If both a mammogram and an ultrasound are inconclusive, your doctor may wish to take a sample of the suspicious spot and have it tested. To do this, your doctor will remove a sample of the suspicious spot and send it to a laboratory. If the sample is positive for cancer, the lab can test it further in order to tell your doctor the type of cancer you have.
Breast cancer can be divided into stages based on how severe it is. Cancers that have grown and invaded nearby tissues and organs are at a higher stage than cancers that are still contained to the breast. In order to stage a breast cancer, doctors need to know:
- if the cancer is invasive or non-invasive
- how large the tumor is
- whether or not the lymph nodes are involved
- if the cancer has spread to nearby tissue or organs.
Breast cancer has five main stages. They are:
Stage 0. Stage 0 breast cancer is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is a type of pre-cancerous growth. Cancer cells in DCIS remain confined to the ducts in the breast and have not spread beyond the ducts and into nearby tissue.
Stage 1. Stage 1 tumors are no larger than 2 centimeters (cm). Lymph nodes are not impacted by stage 1 breast cancer.
Stage 2. Stage 2 breast cancers can be divided into two categories. The first type of stage 2 breast cancer has a tumor that is no larger than 2 cm, but the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. The second type of stage 2 breast cancer has a tumor that is between 2 and 5 cm, but the cancer has not spread to any lymph nodes or nearby tissue.
Stage 3. Several types of cancers can be at stage 3. The first is a tumor that is no larger than 5 cm, but this tumor has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissue. Breast cancer may be at stage 3 if the cancer has spread into the chest wall or skin but not the lymph nodes. Another type of stage 3 breast cancer can be a tumor of any size with lymph nodes in distant areas of the body having cancer, too.
Stage 4. Stage 4 breast cancer can have a tumor of any size, and the cancer has spread to nearby and distant lymph nodes, as well as distant organs.
- Breast cancer facts and figures: 2013-2014. (2013).American Cancer Society. Retrieved August 12, 2014 fromhttp://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/document/acspc-042725.pdf
- Breast cancer risk factors. (April 1, 2014).org. Retrieved August 12, 2014 from http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors
- How is breast cancer diagnosed? (2014).American Cancer Society.Retrieved August 12, 2014 fromhttp://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-diagnosis
- How is breast cancer treated? (July 21, 2014).Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 12, 2014 fromhttp://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/treatment.htm
- Symptoms of breast cancer. (July 18, 2003).org.Retrieved August 12, 2014 fromhttp://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/symptoms.