Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can begin in any of the three main parts of a breast—the lobules, ducts or connective tissue. The lobules are the milk-producing gland in the breast while the ducts are the pathways that help carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue is a fibrous and fatty tissue that holds everything together. It is said to have metastasized when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph vessels.

Women over 50 are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but it can affect younger women as well. Although men can develop breast cancer too, it’s much rarer but is just as serious as the breast cancer women are diagnosed with.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. Some breast changes can be felt, but most can be detected only with the use of imaging procedures, such as a mammogram, MRI or ultrasound. That’s why it’s important to do breast-self exams to help you learn how your breasts normally feel. This way it would be easier for you to notice and find changes. However, breast self-exams are not a substitute for mammograms.

If you have any of the following symptoms, see your doctor right away:

  • New lump in the breast or underarm
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation, itching or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size of the shape of the breast
  • Pain in any area of the breast

According to Keiva Bland, MD of DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital, "When it comes to breast health, for both women and men, if anything feels or looks abnormal, get it checked out. Do not try to think of reasons to not get the problem checked out. You are not wasting anyone’s time (including your own) and it could help you to get peace of mind. Most abnormalities are not cancer. You just need to know what it is."

What Do Lumps in My Breast Mean?

Lumps come in different shapes and sizes. Although lumps may point to cancer, many other conditions can cause lumps in the breast. Note that normal breast tissue can sometimes feel lumpy too. Some of the conditions that can cause breast lumps include cysts from having fibrocystic breasts, fibroadenomas, and other non-cancerous conditions.

How Can I Reduce My Risk?

While there are risk factors you can’t control, such as getting older or genetics, subscribing to a healthy lifestyle and taking preventive measures can help lower your risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Obesity and alcohol misuse increase your risk for developing breast cancer. Go for a nutrient-dense diet, exercise as often as possible and limit intake of alcoholic drinks.
  • Regular mammograms do not prevent breast cancer but provides early detection which is the key to better outcomes. Consider starting annual mammograms no later than 40 years old or based on the recommendations of your doctor.
  • If you’re taking hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, ask your doctor about the risks and other possible alternatives.
  • Breastfeed your children, if possible.
  • Having a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can significantly raise your risk. Discuss your diagnostic and preventive treatment options with your doctor.

Early detection and treatment of breast cancer can save lives. Don’t delay care. We have precautions in place to ensure your safety so you can stay on top of your breast health. We are here for you.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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