Breast cancer Symptoms

breast cancer symptoms

Breast cancer symptoms vary widely — from lumps to swelling to skin changes — and many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all. Symptoms that are similar to those of breast cancer may be the result of non-cancerous conditions like infection or a cyst. Breast self-exam should be part of your monthly health care routine, and you should visit your doctor if you experience breast changes. If you're over 40 or at a high risk for the disease, you should also have an annual mammogram and physical exam by a doctor. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of beating it.

Signs

The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast. In addition, the following are possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
• Breast or nipple pain
• A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
• Bloody discharge from the nipple or redness
• Change in the size or shape of a breast
• Changes to the skin over the breast, Swelling of part of the breast or dimpling
• Inverted nipple
• Peeling, scaling or flaking of the nipple or breast skin
• Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange

What do you do if you find a lump?

One of the most frightening moments for a woman is if she sees or feels something different or unusual while performing breast self-examination. One of the most important reasons to perform regular breast self-examination is so that you know what is normal for your breasts. If you find a lump, it is important not to panic.
If you discover lumpiness in one breast or feel something "different" in the tissue, or you feel a definite lump, there may be valid reason for concern and it is important to contact your physician. Sometimes, the lumpiness may be due to menstrual changes; however, if you have nipple discharge or skin changes such as dimpling or puckering, your physician may want to see you right away.
It is natural to be frightened when discovering a lump, but do not let the prospect of cancer delay you from taking action. Remember that most breast lumps are benign (not cancer).

When to see a doctor

Although the majority of breast changes don't turn out to be cancer, make an appointment to see your doctor if you find a lump or other change in your breast. Even if you've just had a mammogram with normal results, it's still important to have your doctor evaluate any changes.
It is best to detect breast cancer before any of these signs occur by following screening mammography guidelines.
Although breast cancer can be diagnosed by the above signs and symptoms, the use of screening mammography has made it possible to detect many of the cancers early before they cause any symptoms.
Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so as long as they are in good health.
Mammograms are a very good screening tool for breast cancer. As in any test, mammograms have limitations and will miss some cancers. The results of your mammogram, breast exam, and family history should be discussed with your health care professional.
The actual process of diagnosis can take weeks and involve many different kinds of tests. Waiting for results can feel like a lifetime. The uncertainty stinks. But once you understand your own unique “big picture,” you can make better decisions.
You and your doctors can formulate a treatment plan tailored just for you.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it's important to understand some basics,ie: What is breast cancer and how it happens.

Tests and diagnosis


Diagnosing breast cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose breast cancer include:

Breast exam

Your doctor will check both of your breasts, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities. Your doctor will likely check your breasts in varying positions, such as with your arms above your head and at your side.

Mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are commonly used to screen for breast cancer. If an abnormality is detected on a screening mammogram, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram to further evaluate that abnormality.

Breast ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of structures deep within the body. Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound to help determine whether a breast abnormality is likely to be a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass, which may be either benign or cancerous. Breast ultrasound is helpful to guide radiologic biopsy to get a sample of breast tissue if a solid mass is found.

Removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy)

A biopsy to remove a sample of the suspicious breast cells helps determine whether cells are cancerous. The sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. A biopsy sample is also analyzed to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer and whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors.

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An MRI machine uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the interior of your breast. Before a breast MRI, you receive an injection of dye. This test may be ordered after a breast biopsy confirms cancer, but before surgery to give your doctor an idea of the extent of the cancer and to see if there's any evidence of cancer in the other breast.

Other tests and procedures may be used depending on your situation.

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
• Chest X-ray
• 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. Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV, with 0 indicating cancer that is very small and noninvasive. Stage IV breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.

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 other health professionals, including:
• 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, as well as any 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.

Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you 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:

Questions to ask your doctor

• 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?

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.

Diagnosing breast cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose breast cancer include:

Breast exam

Your doctor will check both of your breasts, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities. Your doctor will likely check your breasts in varying positions, such as with your arms above your head and at your side.

Mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are commonly used to screen for breast cancer. If an abnormality is detected on a screening mammogram, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram to further evaluate that abnormality.

Breast ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of structures deep within the body. Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound to help determine whether a breast abnormality is likely to be a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass, which may be either benign or cancerous. Breast ultrasound is helpful to guide radiologic biopsy to get a sample of breast tissue if a solid mass is found.

Removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy)

A biopsy to remove a sample of the suspicious breast cells helps determine whether cells are cancerous. The sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. A biopsy sample is also analyzed to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer and whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors.

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An MRI machine uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the interior of your breast. Before a breast MRI, you receive an injection of dye. This test may be ordered after a breast biopsy confirms cancer, but before surgery to give your doctor an idea of the extent of the cancer and to see if there's any evidence of cancer in the other breast.
Other tests and procedures may be used depending on your situation.

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
• Chest X-ray
• 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. Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV, with 0 indicating cancer that is very small and noninvasive. Stage IV breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.

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Document partialy by: Mayo Clinic.