Living With Breast Cancer
Being diagnosed with breast cancer can affect daily life in many ways, depending on what stage it’s at and the treatment you will have.
How people cope with the diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. There are several forms of support available, if you need it.
Forms of support may include:
- family and friends, who can be a powerful support system
- communicating with other people in the same situation
- finding out as much as possible about your condition
- not trying to do too much or overexerting yourself
- making time for yourself
Find out more about living with breast cancer.
Or Your Nipples Are Leaking
Is there anything more alarming than having your breasts start squirting liquid when theres no baby involved? Its normal to have some leakage during pregnancy while breastfeeding, and up to a year after weaning your baby, but if you notice any discharge any other time it needs to be evaluated by a doctor, says Dr. Patt.
Random dischargeespecially if its red or green or has an odormight mean you have a problem, including cancer of the breast or the pituitary gland, Dr. Patt explains.
Surprising Signs Of Breast Cancer
Finding a mass in the breast tissue, or a breast lump, is one of the most recognized signs of breast cancer. However, many breast cancers that are found with breast screening like mammography are too tiny to feel and finding a lump doesnt always mean that you have breast cancer. Recognizing all of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer helps you seek the care that you need when you need it.
Breast cancer may cause changes in texture or appearance of the skin:
- redness or swelling
- firmness or thickening of skin
- flaking or peeling skin
- dimpling or pitting
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Black Women And Breast Cancer Screening
Some studies have shown that fewer Black women are screened and adequately treated, resulting in higher mortality rates.
Even with a prompt diagnosis, there are several barriers to health care, like:
- Lack of insurance
- Transportation challenges
- Financial strain
These are compounded by the wealth gap between Black and White families in the United States that can lead to delayed initiation of treatment. This can have wide-ranging and devastating consequences.
Still, research has also shown that Black women fare far worse than White women even when socioeconomic differences are accounted for. If you have any suspicion of breast cancer, seek immediate medical attention.
Can You Have Breast Cancer Without Any Symptoms
ANSWER: Breast cancer is not always accompanied by a lump. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer never have any signs or symptoms, and their cancer is found on a screening test, such as a mammogram. Among women who experience warning signs, a lump in the breast or underarm area is the most common red flag.
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Types Of Breast Cancer
There are several different types of breast cancer, which develop in different parts of the breast.
Breast cancer is often divided into either:
- non-invasive breast cancer found in the ducts of the breast which has not spread into the breast tissue surrounding the ducts. Non-invasive breast cancer is usually found during a mammogram and rarely shows as a breast lump.
- invasive breast cancer where the cancer cells have spread through the lining of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. This is the most common type of breast cancer.
Other, less common types of breast cancer include:
- invasive lobular breast cancer
- inflammatory breast cancer
It’s possible for breast cancer to spread to other parts of the body, usually through the blood or the axillary lymph nodes. These are small lymphatic glands that filter bacteria and cells from the mammary gland.
If this happens, it’s known as secondary, or metastatic, breast cancer.
What Causes Breast Cancer
While there is no specific cause for breast cancer, some lifestyle factors are associated with a higher risk of developing the condition:
- Drinking alcohol may raise oestrogen levels in the body and is associated with a 30 to 50% increased risk of breast cancer.
- Unhealthy weight Being obese is associated with a 20 to 40% increased risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women.
- Smoking, particularly if you started as a teenager, increases your breast cancer risk.
Other factors that cant be changed also impact your likelihood of getting breast cancer:
- Your age The older you get, the more likely it is your cells become damaged and progress to cancer. Nearly 4 in 5 new breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 50 years.
- Your family history Women with a first-degree relative with breast cancer are twice as likely to get it themselves than women without one.
- Having BRCA1, BRCA2 or other gene mutations Up to 1 in 10 breast cancers are due to a strong family history of these genetic mutations.
- Dense breasts Women with more dense tissue in their breasts may have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Previous radiation exposure Women who were exposed to radiation therapy in the chest region may have 5 times the risk of breast cancer as women who were not.
Lobular Carcinoma In Situ
- LCIS usually does not cause a lump. Its often diagnosed when a woman is being checked for another breast problem nearby.
- Most of the time LCIS does not need treatment, but in some cases a doctor will recommend surgery.
- LCIS increases the risk of breast cancer. Women with LCIS should talk to their health care provider about being screened more often, and/or trying to lower their risk through lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery.
What Is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a disease where cells in the breast grow abnormally and in an uncontrolled way to form a lump, known as a tumour. If left untreated, lumps may spread from breast tissue to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver or lungs. Breast cancer affects both men and women, although it is less common in men.
Some breast cancers, known as ‘pre-invasive’ or ‘carcinoma in situ’ breast cancers, appear inside the milk ducts or milk-producing lobules of the breast. Other invasive breast cancers grow within normal breast tissue and may spread to elsewhere in the body. There are various types, including Pagets disease, inflammatory breast cancer, ductal carcinoma, lobular carcinoma, hormone receptor positive breast cancer, HER-2 positive breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer .
Breast cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed cancer in women, and its estimated that 8 Australians die from the disease each day. Thankfully, with prompt detection and treatment, 9 in 10 women with breast cancer survive at least 5 years, and many live much longer.
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Nipple Retraction Or Inversion
Breast cancer can cause cell changes behind the nipple. These changes can result in the nipple inverting and reversing inward into the breast, or it may look different in terms of its size.
The appearance of the nipples can often alter during ovulation or other parts of the menstrual cycle, but people should see a doctor about any new nipple changes.
Money And Financial Support
If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it difficult to cope financially.
If you have cancer or you’re caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support, for example:
- if you have a job but can’t work because of your illness, you’re entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
- if you don’t have a job and can’t work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
- if you’re caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carers Allowance
- you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home, or if you have a low household income
Find out what help is available to you as soon as possible. The social worker at your hospital will be able to give you the information you need.
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When Breast Cancer Strikes Without Symptoms
All photos courtesy of the author
My childhood best friend, Olivia, called me last week to tell me her big birthday news: At 26, she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer so severe she needed an immediate double mastectomy. “You felt the lump and just knew?” I asked, waiting for gut-wrenching details about the breast self-examination gone wrong.
“No lump,” she replied.
In America, young women are taught to always watch out for the lumps in our self-exams, because lumps equal breast cancer. But that’s not always the caseasymptomatic breast cancer is rare, especially in young women, but up to five percent of breast cancer patients have inflammatory breast cancer, which does not present in lumps.
Olivia not only found herself facing breast cancer without classic symptoms,she also had one of the most aggressive cancers her doctors had ever seen. Olivia has been a 49ers cheerleader, a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance, and a dancer for pop stars like Madonna she’s never smoked cigarettes or done drugs, and she has no history of breast cancer in her family. Without lumps to signal their arrival, how could she know about the tumors spreading in her breasts?
Things like this don’t happen to healthy, young girls like us, we kept thinking, Especially without the tell-tale lump.
Earlier this month, Olivia went in for a six-hour double mastectomy. She was one of the youngest women in the US to have this surgery under these conditions.
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Further Tests For Breast Cancer
If a diagnosis of breast cancer is confirmed, more tests will be needed to determine the stage and grade of the cancer, and to work out the best method of treatment.
If your cancer was detected through the NHS Breast Screening Programme, you’ll have further tests in the screening centre before being referred for treatment.
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What Are The Common Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
The following early signs and symptoms of breast cancer can happen with other conditions that are not cancer related.
- New lump in the breast or underarm
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area of 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 or the shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
Metastatic Breast Cancer Symptoms
Metastatic breast cancer symptoms depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread and its stage. Sometimes, metastatic disease may not cause any symptoms.
- If the breast or chest wall is affected, symptoms may include pain, nipple discharge, or a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm.
- If the bones are affected, symptoms may include pain, fractures, constipation or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
- If tumors form in the lungs, symptoms may include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, coughing, chest wall pain or extreme fatigue.
- If the liver is affected, symptoms may include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal girth, swelling of the feet and hands due to fluid collection and yellowing or itchy skin.
- If breast cancer spreads to the brain or spinal cord and forms tumors, symptoms may include pain, confusion, memory loss, headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with speech, difficulty with movement or seizures.
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Talking To Your Healthcare Provider
It is crucial that you talk to your oncologist and healthcare team about any and all symptoms you are experiencing. Some of these symptoms, such as pain, are under-treated in people with metastatic cancer. This is not because healthcare providers fail to treat the symptoms, but because they are simply unaware that a person is coping with them.
Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.
With all of the talk about people with cancer being brave or strong, you might hesitate to share symptoms that could make you appear frightened or weak. Yet facing metastatic cancer is frightening, and being able to share your concerns is a sign of strength, not weakness. There is a lot that can be done to ease most of the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, but the only way that your oncologist can know what you are feeling is if you are brave enough to speak up.
In addition, sharing your symptoms, even if they may seem of little consequence to you, may help your oncologist better recognize the extent of your disease, anticipate potential complications, and suggest the best possible treatments for your disease.
You Have A Zit That Wont Heal
Didnt know that you can get zits on your breasts? Its true. Its not uncommon to get small sores, including pimples and even warts, on your breasts or nipples, Dr. Ross says. For women who work out, you may find them in places you sweat heavily, like between your breasts, or along the line of your sports bra where sweat can get trapped and clog your pores.
Most zits will go away on their own with time and good hygiene. But if youve got a small sore of any type that doesnt go away after a week or two, its worth it to get it checked out. Having sores or bruises that wont heal can be an early sign of cancer, she explains.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
Breast pain can be a symptom of cancer. If you have any symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are
- New lump in the breast or underarm .
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation 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 or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.
If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Can Inflammatory Breast Cancer Be Prevented
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent IBC . Thats why, in an interview with Flo, breast surgical oncologist Dr. Carlie Thompson says that routine screening for breast cancer is important: It catches breast cancer in its earliest form. Carlie says that the majority of cases of breast cancer are diagnosed via breast cancer screenings, like mammograms. During a mammogram, an x-ray is taken of your breasts to look for abnormal findings that may signify cancer. Mammography can identify cancer years before it could be felt.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women aged 4554 get annual mammograms.
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Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented
Unfortunately, there isnt a way to prevent breast cancer completely. However, lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight and lowering alcohol consumption can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
If you are at high risk of developing breast cancer, your doctor may suggest hormone treatments , or a pre-emptive mastectomy.
How Does Breast Cancer Start
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control. Different kinds of breast cells develop into different types of breast cancer. Most breast cancers begin in the breast ducts or lobules . These are known respectively as invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. Other less common types of breast cancer include inflammatory breast cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ.
Though breast cancer is most common in women, men can develop it as well. A mans lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 2,620 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Urgent Advice: You Should See Your Gp If You Notice:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- bloodstained discharge from either of your nipples
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
How To Distinguish Ibc From Other More Common Conditions
It can be hard to distinguish breast changes caused by inflammatory breast cancer from other common conditions, such as an ordinary rash, allergic reaction, or infection. Thats why its important to see a health care provider as soon as you notice any of these changes to figure out the cause and get treatment, if necessary.
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What Are The Stages Of Breast Cancer
There are two different staging systems for breast cancer. One is called anatomic staging while the other is prognostic staging. The anatomic staging is defined by the areas of the body where the breast cancer is found and helps to define appropriate treatment. The prognostic staging helps medical professionals communicate how likely a patient is to be cured of the cancer assuming that all appropriate treatment is given.
The anatomic staging system is as follows:
Stage 0 breast disease is when the disease is localized to the milk ducts .
Stage I breast cancer is smaller than 2 cm across and hasn’t spread anywhere including no involvement in the lymph nodes.
Stage II breast cancer is one of the following:
- The tumor is less than 2 cm across but has spread to the underarm lymph nodes .
- The tumor is between 2 and 5 cm .
- The tumor is larger than 5 cm and has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm .
Stage III breast cancer is also called “locally advanced breast cancer.” The tumor is any size with cancerous lymph nodes that adhere to one another or to surrounding tissue . Stage IIIB breast cancer is a tumor of any size that has spread to the skin, chest wall, or internal mammary lymph nodes .
Stage IV breast cancer is defined as a tumor, regardless of size, that has spread to areas away from the breast, such as bones, lungs, liver or brain.