A painless lump in the breast is a highly suspicious of cancer breast.
Changes in breast size or shape.
Swelling in the armpit.
Changes in the Nipple or discharge from Nipple.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, fast-growing type of cancer that often causes no distinct lump. Instead, breast skin may become thick, red, and may look pitted — like an orange peel. The area may also feel warm or tender and have smallbumps that look like a rash.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
The earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it is to treat and a better prognosis. Mammograms, X-rays of the breast, can detect tumors before they are large enough to feel. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 for women at average risk. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a screening mammogram every two years from age 50 to 74. It also notes that before age 50, each woman should check with a doctor to find out what screening schedule is right for her, considering the potential benefits and harms from screening.
Eighty percent of breast lumps are not cancerous. Lumps often turn out to be harmless cysts or tissue changes related to your menstrual cycle. But you should let your doctor know right away if you find anything unusual in your breast. If it is cancer, the earlier it’s found the better. And if it’s not, testing can give you peace of mind.
The only sure way to determine whether a lump is cancer is to do a biopsy. This involves taking a tissue sample for further examination in the lab, sometimes through a small needle. Sometimes surgery is done to take part of or the entire lump for testing. The results will show whether the lump is cancer, and if so, what type. There are several forms of breast cancer, and treatments are carefully matched to the type of cancer.
Some types of breast cancer are fuelled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone. A biopsy can reveal whether a tumor has receptors for estrogen (ER-positive) and/or progesterone (PR-positive). About two out of three breast cancers are hormone sensitive. There are several medications that keep the hormones from promoting further cancer growth.
In about 20% of patients, breast cancer cells have too many receptors for a protein called HER2. This type of cancer is known as HER2-positive, and it tends to spread faster than other forms of breast cancer. It’s important to determine whether a tumor is HER2-positive, because there are special treatments for this form of cancer.
Once breast cancer has been diagnosed, the next step is to determine how big the tumor is and how far the cancer has spread. This process is called staging. Doctors use Stages 0-4 to describe whether cancer is localized to the breast, has invaded nearby lymph nodes, or has spread to other organs, such as the lungs. Knowing the stage and type of breast cancer will help your health care team formulate a treatment strategy.
The odds of surviving breast cancer are strongly tied to how early it is found. According to the American Cancer Society, 100% of women with Stage 1 breast cancer live at least five years, compared to women without cancer – and many women in this group remain cancer-free for good. The more advanced the cancer, the lower this figure becomes. By Stage 4, the five-year relative survival rate declines to 20%. But these rates can improve as more effective treatments are found.
There are many types of breast cancer surgery, from taking out the area around the lump (lumpectomy or breast-conservation surgery) to removing the entire breast (mastectomy.) It’s best to discuss the pros and cons of each of these procedures with your doctor before deciding what’s right for you.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used after breast cancer surgery to wipe out any cancer cells that remain. It can also be used along with chemotherapy for treatment of cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Side effects can include fatigue and swelling or a sunburn-like feeling in the treated area.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells anywhere in the body. The drugs are often given by IV, but are sometimes taken by mouth or shot. Chemotherapy may be done after surgery to lower the odds of the cancer coming back. In women with advanced breast cancer, chemotherapy can help control the cancer’s growth. Side effects may include hair loss, nausea, fatigue, and a higher risk of infection.
Hormone therapy is an effective treatment for women with ER-positive or PR-positive breast cancer. These are cancers that grow more rapidly in response to the hormones estrogen or progesterone. Hormone therapy can block this effect. It is most often used after breast cancer surgery to help keep the cancer from coming back. It may also be used to reduce the chance of breast cancer developing in women who are at high risk.
Targeted therapies are newer drugs that target specific properties within cancer cells. For example, women with HER2-positive breast cancer have too much of a protein called HER2. Targeted therapies can stop this protein from promoting the growth of cancer cells. These drugs are often used in combination with chemotherapy. They tend to have milder side effects compared to chemotherapy.
There’s no doubt that cancer is a life-changing experience. The treatments can wear you out. You may have trouble managing daily chores, work, or social outings. This can lead to feelings of isolation. It’s crucial to reach out to friends and family for support. They may be able to go with you to treatments, help out with chores, or just remind you that you are not alone. Many people choose to join a support group — either locally or online.
Many women who have a breast removed choose to undergo reconstructive surgery. This replaces the skin, nipple, and breast tissue that are lost during a mastectomy. Reconstruction can be done with a breast implant or with tissue from somewhere else in your body, such as the tummy. Some women opt to begin reconstruction at the same time as their mastectomy. But it’s also possible to have reconstructive surgery months or years later.
An alternative to breast reconstruction is to be fitted for a breast form. This is a breast-shaped prosthesis that fits inside your bra. Wearing a breast form allows you to have a balanced look when you are dressed — without undergoing additional surgery. Like reconstructive surgery, breast forms are often covered by insurance.
The most obvious risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman. Men get the disease, too, but it is about 100 times more common in women. Other top risk factors include being over age 55 or having a close relative who has had the disease. But keep in mind that up to 80% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the illness.
Some women have a very high risk of breast cancer because they inherited changes in certain genes. The genes most commonly involved in breast cancer are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with mutations in these genes have up to an 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer at some point in life. Other genes may be linked to breast cancer risk as well.
Being overweight, getting too little exercise, and drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day can raise the risk of developing breast cancer. Birth control pills and some forms of postmenopausal hormone therapy can also boost your risk. But the risk goes back to normal after these medications are stopped. Among survivors, good lifestyle choices may be helpful. Recent studies suggest that physical activity may help lower the risk of a recurrence and it’s a proven mood-booster.
Doctors continue to search for more effective and tolerable treatments for breast cancer.