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The Early Signs of Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a form of cancer in which the cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells are considered malignant (cancerous) if the cells begin to metastasize (invade or spread to surrounding tissue). Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women living in the United States. It is also the second leading cause of death in women. Breast cancer can occur in both women and men, but it is vastly more common in women.

Cause of breast cancer

The cause of breast cancer is not yet known. Doctors know that breast cancer begins when breast cells begin to grow abnormally. They also know that breast cancer most often begins in the milk-producing ducts (known as invasive lobular carcinoma). They have also linked hormonal, lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors (as an example, you are more likely to develop breast cancer if your mother or grandmother had breast cancer in their lifetime) to breast cancer. However, it is still not clear why some women are more susceptible to breast cancer than other women.

Early signs and symptoms 

It is very important to identify and catch breast cancer early on. The survival rates for women with Stage 0, I and II breast cancer is at least 95 percent. The earlier you catch breast cancer, the easier treatment will be and the more likely the patient’s chance will be to beat the cancer. It is very important to get the annual mammogram to catch any early signs of cancer. There are also signs and symptoms that can be identified early on. These include:

  • Lump in the breast
  • Lump in the armpit
  • Changes in breast shape and size
  • Skin changes around the breast
  • Inflammation, redness or swelling in the breast
  • Itching around the breast and nipples
  • Changes to the nipples
  • Nipple discharge
  • Crusting and ulcers around the nipple
  • Breast pain

Diagnosing breast cancer 

Diagnosing breast cancer can be done in several forms, normally in more than one test. Your doctor will check both your breasts and lymph nodes for lumps or other abnormalities. Mammograms are x-rays of the breasts that can show abnormal masses in the breasts. Ultrasounds on the breasts can also be done to determine whether a mass is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst. If needed, a biopsy will be done, which will remove a sample of breast tissue to test for cancer cells.

Risk factors 

There are some factors that put you more at risk for breast cancer. These include:

  • Having a parent or grandparent that had breast cancer
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Frequent and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Frequent radiation to the chest
  • Being overweight
  • Poor diet

Treating breast cancer 

Once cancer is diagnosed, treatment will depend on the severity of the cancer. Pharmacological options include hormone therapies, radiation and chemotherapy. Often, surgery is needed to remove the cancerous tissue from the breast. This could mean removing the tumor(s) (lumpectomy) or removing part of or all of the breast (mastectomy). Pharmacological options are usually used both before and after the surgery to maximize the attempts to kill the cancer cells.