Living With Breast Cancer
Being diagnosed with breast cancer can affect daily life in many ways, depending on what stage it’s at and what treatment you’re having.
How women cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. You can be reassured that there are several forms of support available, if you need it. For example:
- your family and friends can be a powerful support system
- you can communicate with other people in the same situation
- find out as much as possible about your condition
- don’t try to do too much or overexert yourself
- make time for yourself
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Breast Cancer Types And Symptoms
There are several kinds of breast cancer. Many of them share symptoms.
Symptoms of ductal carcinoma
This is the most common type of breast cancer. It begins in your ducts. About 1 in 5 new breast cancers are ductal carcinoma in situ . This means you have cancer in the cells that line your ducts, but it hasnât spread into nearby tissue.
You may not notice any symptoms of ductal carcinoma. It can also cause a breast lump or bloody discharge.
Symptoms of lobular carcinoma
This kind begins in the glands that make milk, called lobules. Itâs the second most common type of breast cancer. Symptoms include:
- Fullness, thickening, or swelling in one area
- Nipples that are flat or point inward
Symptoms of invasive breast cancer
Breast cancer thatâs spread from where it began into the tissues around it is called invasive or infiltrating. You may notice:
- A lump in your breast or armpit. You might not be able to move it separately from your skin or move it at all.
- One breast that looks different from the other
- A rash or skin thatâs thick, red, or dimpled like an orange
- Skin sores
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms of triple-negative breast cancer
Breast cancer is called triple-negative if it doesnât have receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone and doesnât make a lot of a protein called HER2. This kind tends to grow and spread faster than other types, and doctors treat it differently.
Symptoms of male breast cancer
- A small, hard cyst
What Is Breast Cancer
Cells in the body normally divide only when new cells are needed. Sometimes, cells in a part of the body grow and divide out of control, which creates a mass of tissue called a tumor. If the cells that are growing out of control are normal cells, the tumor is called benign. If, however, the cells that are growing out of control are abnormal and don’t function like the body’s normal cells, the tumor is called malignant .
Cancers are named after the part of the body from which they originate. Breast cancer originates in the breast tissue. Like other cancers, breast cancer can invade and grow into the tissue surrounding the breast. It can also travel to other parts of the body and form new tumors, a process called metastasis.
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Pagets Disease Of The Breast
This is a rare skin condition that is sometimes a sign of an underlying breast cancer. The symptoms are a red, scaly rash on the nipple and surrounding area. This can be itchy and looks a bit like eczema. It is sometimes mistaken for eczema at first.
See your doctor if you have any changes in the skin of your breast.
How Are Fibroadenomas Diagnosed And Treated
Your healthcare provider may diagnose this type of lump simply by feeling it. But, he or she will want to confirm the diagnosis with a mammogram or ultrasound and fine-needle aspiration. Sometimes, in very young women, the fibroadenoma is not removed. However, since sometimes these tumors enlarge with pregnancy and breastfeeding, your provider may suggest having it surgically removed.
While most fibroadenomas do not lead to cancer, there is a type of fibroadenoma that has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly in women with a family history of the disease.
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Not Just Lumps Get To Know Other Symptoms Of Breast Cancer Says Study
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a newly discovered lump, but this is not the only symptom women should be aware of, according to a recently published research article from the UK.
Nipple abnormalities and breast pain were just some of the other symptoms reported by one in six women involved in research conducted by University College, London.
The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, presented data obtained from an audit of more than 2300 women diagnosed with breast cancer in England in 2009-2010. Researchers investigated the presenting symptoms of the women and the time taken for each of their diagnoses.
The aim of the study was to establish if there was any correlation between the type of symptom the woman reported to her doctor and the length of time it took for her to be diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers looked at the time the woman waited before seeking help and also the time to reach a diagnosis after seeing her doctor .
The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer initially presented with a breast lump , but one in six presented with a non-lump symptom. These included nipple abnormalities, breast pain, skin abnormalities, ulceration, shape abnormalities, an inflamed or infected breast and a lump or pain in the armpit.
The delay in seeking a diagnosis is significant. The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the better the treatment and survival outcomes.
What Are Some Common Types Of Benign Breast Lumps
There are many possible causes of non-cancerous breast lumps. Two of the most common causes of benign single breast lumps are cysts and fibroadenomas. In addition, several other conditions can present themselves as lumps, such as fat necrosis and sclerosing adenosis. Only your healthcare provider can diagnose your breast lump.
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What You Need To Know:
Cancer Australia recommends women be ‘breast aware’. Knowing what is normal for you will help you detect any changes, including:
- a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
- a change in the size or shape of the breast
- a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
- a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
- a change in the skin of the breast, such as redness or dimpling
- an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.
This study reinforces the importance of seeing your doctor as soon as you notice a change in your breasts. Jean Hailes’ specialist women’s health GP, Dr Amanda Newman, says it’s also important for women to know that nine out of 10 breast changes are not cancer, but that these changes need to be monitored by their GP.
For more information, visit our Breast Health pages.
Invasive Breast Cancer Symptoms
Most breast cancers start in the ducts, or the tubes that carry milk to the nipple, or in the lobules, the little clusters of sacs where breast milk is made. Invasive breast cancer refers to breast cancer that spreads from the original site to other areas of the breast, the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body. In these cancers that form in the ducts or lobules, invasive ductal carcinoma or invasive lobular carcinoma , the cancer spreads from the ducts or lobules to other tissue. Depending on the stage, you may notice symptoms.
Invasive breast cancer symptoms may include:
- A lump or mass in the breast
- Swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is felt
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- A lump or swelling in the underarm lymph nodes
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What Is A Cyst
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops in the breast tissue. They most often happen in women between the ages of 35 and 50 and are common in those nearing menopause. The cysts often enlarge and become sore just before your period. They may seem to appear overnight. Cysts are rarely cancerous and may be caused by blocked breast glands.
Cysts can feel either soft or hard. When close to the surface of the breast, cysts can feel like a large blister, smooth on the outside, but fluid-filled on the inside. When they are deep in breast tissue, cysts will feel like hard lumps because they are covered with tissue.
How Can I Protect Myself From Breast Cancer
Follow these three steps for early detection:
- Get a mammogram. The American Cancer Society recommends having a baseline mammogram at age 35, and a screening mammogram every year after age 40. Mammograms are an important part of your health history. Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force came out with new recommendations regarding when and how often one should have mammograms. These include starting at age 50 and having them every two years. We do not agree with this, but we are in agreement with the American Cancer Society and have not changed our guidelines, which recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 40.
- Examine your breasts each month after age 20. You will become familiar with the contours and feel of your breasts and will be more alert to changes.
- Have your breast examined by a healthcare provider at least once every three years after age 20, and every year after age 40. Clinical breast exams can detect lumps that may not be detected by mammogram.
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Change In Size Shape Or Feel Of Your Breast
A cancer might cause your breast to look bigger or have a different shape than usual, it might feel different.
Many healthy women find that their breasts feel lumpy and tender just before their period.
It can help to be breast aware. This means getting to know the size, shape and feel of your breasts.
Can Men Have Breast Lumps
Yes. Men can develop a condition called gynecomastia. The male breast becomes enlarged and sometimes tender. A breast lump may also form underneath the nipple. Gynecomastia often occurs in both breasts. This condition can be related to a hormonal imbalance or a side effect of medication, although additional workup may be considered to determine a cause. Most often, a cause is never determined it is called idiopathic.
Men can also develop breast cancer, so if you feel a lump in your breast, see your healthcare provider for an evaluation.
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Change In Breast Size Or Shape
Weight gain, menstrual cycle changes, and pregnancy or breastfeeding can all impact the size and shape of your breasts. But if your breasts change shape independent of these other factors and if it occurs suddenly it could be a sign of cancer and you should schedule a screening with your doctor, says Dr Johnson. This can occur in the week before your menses so always wait one week after to see if it goes away on its own, she says. If it is occurring in both breasts, it is likely not due to breast cancer, she says.
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Symptoms Of Breast Cancer Other Than Lumps
Common signs of breast cancer: A lump in the breast or a mass is a typical sign of breast cancer in both men and women. When cancerous cells multiply, it leads to the growth of an uneven mass of cells in the breast, which can be easily detected upon touching. In rare cases of breast cancer, there is no lump or uneven cell growth, which often results in a delay in detection and getting the treatment. Apart from the lump, some additional symptoms may also appear when suffering from this type of cancer. Knowing about these signs are equally essential to get tested for breast cancer at the earliest and start treatment to curb the growth of the abnormal cells before it begins spreading to other parts of the body. Here are the 5 other changes you need to notice in your breast from time to time.
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Changes in skin texture
Breast cancer can also lead to a change in the skin texture of your breasts. It is caused due to inflammation lead by the growth of cancerous cells. This may also cause a change in the colour of the skin. The skin of your breasts may start appearing scaly around the nipple and areola and it may even appear thick in some parts. Even eczema and dermatitis in the breasts can also be a sign of a rare type of breast cancer.
Breast pain or nipple pain
Redness and swelling
Nipple retraction or inversion
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What Is A Fibroadenoma
Fibroadenomas are solid, smooth, firm, noncancerous lumps that are most commonly found in women in their 20s and 30s. They are the most common benign lumps in women and can occur at any age. They are increasingly being seen in postmenopausal women who are taking hormone therapy.
The painless lump feels rubbery and moves around freely. You may find one yourself. Fibroadenomas vary in size and can grow anywhere in the breast tissue.
A Note About Breast Lumps And Pain:
Many people still worry that lumps or pain in their breast are definite signs of breast cancer. If you are experiencing unusual breast tenderness, sharp pain in your breast, a burning sensation, painful lumps, or any other symptom, this does not mean you definitely have breast cancer. Diagnosing breast cancer is a process, and the symptoms of a breast tumor can vary from person to person. If you are worried that your pain is a sign of breast cancer, or if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor about appropriate next steps
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Youve Got Painful Swelling
Swollen and painful breasts are, well, a pain, and while theyre mainly due to hormonal changes , they can be linked to breast cancer.
Its all about the size and placement of the tumor, says Dr. Patt, which can be responsible for a change in the size or shape of your breast, or cause of painful swelling. While the vast majority of women who report breast pain do not have cancer, if breast pain and swelling arent linked to your menstrual cycle, youre not breastfeeding, and it appears suddenly or doesnt go away, give your doctor a call because whatever is happening needs to be addressed, adds Dr. Patt.
A Change In Appearance
Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is important. They will go through fluctuations in size and shape throughout your cycle, and throughout your lifetime. However, any sudden change or a change that is atypical for you should raise an alarm.
Through regular breast self-exams, you will gain an understanding of what is within your normal range, said Dr. Naik. Dont hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor if something changes its always better to be overly cautious and catch a potential problem early.
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Hormones And Hormone Medicine
Hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. However, the risk is a very low one.
Women who use the contraceptive pill have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk starts to decrease once you stop taking the pill. Your risk of breast cancer is back to normal 10 years after stopping.
Benign Breast Lumps And Future Cancer Risk
- Women who had a history of benign breast disease are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who have never had any breast disease. According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Cancer, benign breast disease increases the risk of developing breast cancer in the future, in addition to the risk that a woman may already have due to family history, personal breast cancer history, or a genetic mutation.
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What Is A Normal Breast
No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. For more information, see the National Cancer Institutes Breast Changes and Conditions.external icon
Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Bones
You may have any of these symptoms if your cancer has spread to the bones:
- an ache or pain in the affected bone
- breaks in the bones because they are weaker
- breathlessness, looking pale, bruising and bleeding due to low levels of blood cells – blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be crowded out by the cancer cells
Sometimes when bones are damaged by advanced cancer, the bones release calcium into the blood. This is called hypercalcaemia and can cause various symptoms such as:
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What Are The Causes Of Breast Lumps
Causes of breast lumps include:
- Changes in the breast tissue : Tiny, fluid-filled sacs and fibrous tissue feel like lumps.
- Breast cysts: Fluid-filled sacs form when fluid becomes trapped in the milk ducts. Cysts are common in premenopausal women.
- Fibroadenomas: This benign lump is the most common breast tumor in young women . Fibroadenomas are most common during a persons reproductive years.
- Breast infection: An infection in the breast tissue can cause a lump.
- Breast cancer: A tumor growing in the breast tissue causes a lump.