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What To Do When You Get Breast Cancer

Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer


The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.

The most common signs are:

  • A change in the look or feel of the breast OR
  • A change in the look or feel of the nipple OR
  • Nipple discharge

If you have any of the warning signs described below, see a health care provider .

If you dont have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend.

If thats not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital. If you have insurance, your insurance company may also have a list of providers in your area.

Learn more about finding a health care provider.

In most cases, these changes are not cancer.

One example is breast pain. Pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to get it checked.

If the change turns out to be breast cancer, its best to find it at an early stage, when the chances of survival are highest.

There Are Ways To Find Low

If you dont have health insurance, dont assume that means you cant get screened. There may be more ways to get good, affordable health care than you think. Each October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many mammography centers offer mammograms at reduced rates. Year round, there are organizations working to help women get screened whatever their financial and insurance status.

Getting screened for breast cancer is a crucial part of breast healthbut its not enough on its own. Heres everything you should know to take charge of your breast health.

Breast Cancer Screening & Early Detection

After the age of 45, women should go for annual mammograms, breast exams, and cancer screenings to be proactive in detecting an abnormality. Catching cancer in its early stages is crucial for increasing a patient’s survival rate. If women are at a high risk due to family history or risk factors such as being overweight or having a previous exposure to chest radiation, they may want to consider scheduling mammograms earlier. If something irregular is detected, doctors may also order a breast ultrasound or a needle biopsy to further inspect the area. Patients should understand the proper protocols for detection, and doctors should communicate recommendations and offer insights about potential concerns.

If a doctor fails to order age-based cancer screenings, ignores a patient’s symptoms and concerns that may align with a breast cancer diagnosis, or fails to consider previous health conditions and red flags, a patient may not be receiving the standard of care that is to be expected. If a breast cancer diagnosis is delayed, leading to a more invasive breast cancer in its later stages, patients may be eligible to file a breast cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit and be awarded compensation for costly cancer treatments, pain, and suffering.

Read Also: Stage 3 Ductal Carcinoma

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Your risk is the SAME as the general population

  • If your relatives were not diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer
  • If you have only one second-degree female relative

You have a MODERATELY higher risk than the general population

  • If you have 1-2 first-degree relatives, or 2 second-degree relatives
  • If you have 1-2 first- or second-degree relatives with high-grade prostate cancer

Your risk is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than the general population

  • If 1 or more first- or second-degree relatives are diagnosed with
  • breast cancer before the age of 45
  • triple-negative breast cancer before the age of 60
  • primary cancer in both breasts
  • both ovarian and breast cancer in the same person
  • male breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • If 2 or more first- or second-degree relatives from the same side of the family are diagnosed with breast cancer, with at least one of them early
  • If 3 or more first- or second-degree relatives from the same side of the family are diagnosed with breast cancer or high-grade prostate cancer
  • The race, ethnicity and heritage of your family also play into your breast cancer risk level. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a higher likelihood of having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, which significantly increase their risk for developing breast cancer, beyond the risk above. Women from white families are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer and Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer if diagnosed.

    Why It Spreads And Recurs

    Breast cancer

    You may be wondering why breast cancer cells travel at all. Or, why normal cells don’t spread around our bodies. Cancer cells differ from normal cells in many ways. One of these is that normal cells have what is known as “adhesion molecules.” These adhesion molecules act like glue and keep cells where they belong in a particular part of the body.

    Normal cells also have “boundaries” or ways in which cells communicate with each other. This is like one country saying to another “you don’t belong here.” Cancer cells, in contrast, don’t respect these cellular communications, essentially ignoring the “fences” between different tissues.

    Yet another confusing topic when talking about breast cancer spread is why it can happen years or even decades later. We know that, especially with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers, cancer can seemingly disappear only to recur many years after the original tumor. Nobody is certain exactly how this happens, but there are theories about recurrence that suggest that some breast cancer cells are hardier than others and that these cancer “stem cells” are able to lie dormant even through treatment.

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    How Does The Doctor Know I Have Breast Cancer

    A change seen on your mammogram may be the first sign of breast cancer. Or you may have found a lump or other change in your breast.

    The doctor will ask you questions about your health and will do a physical exam. A breast exam is done to look for changes in the nipples or the skin of your breasts. The doctor will also check the lymph nodes under your arm and above your collarbone. Swollen or hard lymph nodes might mean breast cancer has spread there.

    If signs are pointing to breast cancer, more tests will be done. Here are some of the tests you may need:

    Mammogram: This is an x-ray of the breast. Mammograms are mostly used to find breast cancer early. But another mammogram might be done to look more closely at the breast problem you might have.

    MRI scan: MRIs use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to make detailed pictures. MRIs can be used to learn more about the size of the cancer and look for other tumors in the breast.

    Breast ultrasound: For this test, a small wand is moved around on your skin. It gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off tissues. The echoes are made into a picture that you can see on a computer screen. Ultrasound can help the doctor see if a lump is a fluid-filled cyst , or if it’s a tumor that could be cancer.

    Nipple discharge exam: If you have fluid coming from your nipple, some of it may be sent to a lab. There, it will be checked to see if there are cancer cells in it.

    Chemotherapy After Or Before Surgery

    It’s fairly common for chemotherapy to be given after surgery, as soon as you recover. The time between surgery and chemotherapy depends on each person’s unique situation, so don’t worry if you start sooner or later than someone else. Doctors call this “adjuvant” chemotherapy because it’s given in addition to surgery, which is considered the primary treatment.

    In some cases, chemotherapy is given before surgery to shrink the cancer so less tissue has to be removed. When chemotherapy is given before surgery, it’s called “neoadjuvant” chemotherapy. Only certain types of cancers respond well to chemotherapy before surgery.

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    How Much Do Tamoxifen And Raloxifene Lower The Risk Of Breast Cancer

    Multiple studies have shown that both tamoxifen and raloxifene can reduce the risk of developing estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer in healthy postmenopausal women who are at high risk of developing the disease. Tamoxifen lowered the risk by 50 percent. Raloxifene lowered the risk by 38 percent. Overall, the combined results of these studies showed that taking tamoxifen or raloxifene daily for five years reduced the risk of developing breast cancer by at least one-third. In one trial directly comparing tamoxifen with raloxifene, raloxifene was found to be slightly less effective than tamoxifen for preventing breast cancer.

    Both tamoxifen and raloxifene have been approved for use to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease. Tamoxifen is approved for use in both premenopausal women and postmenopausal women . Raloxifene is approved for use only in postmenopausal women.

    Less common but more serious side effects of tamoxifen and raloxifene include blood clots to the lungs or legs. Other serious side effects of tamoxifen are an increased risk for cataracts and endometrial cancers. Other common, less serious shared side effects of tamoxifen and raloxifene include hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.

    Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer

    How Do Doctors Diagnose and Treat Breast Cancer?

    In its early stages, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. In many cases, a tumor may be too small to be felt, but an abnormality can still be seen on a mammogram.

    If a tumor can be felt, the first sign is usually a new lump in the breast that was not there before. However, not all lumps are cancer.

    Each type of breast cancer can cause a variety of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are similar, but some can be different. Symptoms for the most common breast cancers include:

    • a breast lump or tissue thickening that feels different than surrounding tissue and has developed recently
    • breast pain
    • changes to the appearance of the skin on your breasts
    • a lump or swelling under your arm

    If you have any of these symptoms, it doesnt necessarily mean you have breast cancer. For instance, pain in your breast or a breast lump can be caused by a benign cyst.

    Still, if you find a lump in your breast or have other symptoms, you should see your doctor for further examination and testing.

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    Cosmetic Implants And Breast Cancer Survival

    The general agreement, based on , is that silicone breast implants do not increase the risk of breast cancer. A 2015 meta-analysis of 17 studies that included participants who had undergone cosmetic breast augmentation discovered no increase in the risk of breast cancer associated with the procedure. In fact, the research showed that the incidence among these participants was lower than expected.

    In 2021, another study found that women with cosmetic implants have significantly lower rates of breast cancer than those who do not have them.

    Meanwhile, a 2013 meta-analysis found that women who received a diagnosis of breast cancer after getting cosmetic breast implants may have a higher risk of dying from the disease.

    However, this research did not factor in other variables that may influence breast cancer mortality, such as body mass index, age at diagnosis, or cancer stage at diagnosis. And at least one of the studies in the analysis looked at overall mortality, instead of breast cancer-specific mortality, thereby potentially skewing the results. As such, a person should consider the finding with caution.

    most common type is ductal carcinoma, which begins in a milk duct. Another type is lobular carcinoma, which begins in a lobule, one of the tiny glands that produce milk.

    Invasive breast cancer involves cancerous cells spreading to nearby tissue. It is then more likely that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body.

    If You Are Age 55 Or Over:

    Mammograms are recommended every other year. You can choose to continue to have them every year.

    Clinical breast exams and self-exams are not recommended. But you should be familiar with your breasts and tell a health care provider right away if you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel.

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    How Is Breast Cancer Treated

    Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread.

    Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

    • Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
    • Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
    • Hormonal therapy. Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
    • Biological therapy. Works with your bodys immune system to help it fight cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
    • Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells.

    Doctors from different specialties often work together to treat breast cancer. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with medicine. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation.

    For more information, visit the National Cancer Institutes Breast Cancer Treatment Option Overview.external icon This site can also help you find health care services.external icon

    Questions To Ask About Planning Follow

    Breast Cancer
    • What is the chance that the cancer will come back? Should I watch for specific signs or symptoms?

    • What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment I received?

    • After my treatment has ended, what will my follow-up care plan be?

    • How often will I need to see a doctor?

    • If I move or need to switch doctors, how do I make sure to continue my recommended follow-up care schedule?

    • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will those tests be needed?

    • Can I get copies of my laboratory test results?

    • How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?

    • Who will lead my follow-up care?

    • What survivorship support services are available to me? To my family?

    The next section in this guide is Additional Resources. It offers more resources on this website that may be helpful to you. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.

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    Talk To Other Patients

    Gomez has had four surgeries to remove gastrointestinal tumors in the 10 years since her cancer was diagnosed, and she may face more in the future if the tumors target her liver or grow big enough to block her intestines.

    She now volunteers at a telephone hot line run by M.D. Anderson that matches cancer patients with people who have had the same diagnosis or treatment.

    “My cancer is so rare that I didn’t meet another person who had it until five years after my diagnosis,” she says. “It was very, very lonely.”

    Gomez now talks to at least one person a week with her disease in her volunteer role, and she believes this is one of the best things patients can do to learn about their illness.

    “The Internet is a great learning tool, but it can also scare you to death,” she says. “The statistics, especially, can be misleading. They may tell you survival for your disease is less than five years, for example, but if most people with your cancer are diagnosed in the 60s and 70s and you are in your 30s, that may not apply to you.”

    Surgery To Remove Just The Area Of Cancer

    Surgery to remove the area of cancer in the breast is called breast conserving surgery or a wide local excision.

    The surgeon takes away the cancer and a border of healthy tissue all around it. They leave behind as much healthy breast tissue as possible.

    You usually have radiotherapy to the breast after this type of surgery.

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    Stage 3 Breast Cancer

    • Stage 3A:
    • The cancer has spread to 49 axillary lymph nodes or has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes, and the primary tumor can be any size.
    • Tumors are greater than 5 cm, and the cancer has spread to 13 axillary lymph nodes or any breastbone nodes.
  • Stage 3B: A tumor has invaded the chest wall or skin and may or may not have invaded up to nine lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3C: Cancer is found in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes near the collarbone, or internal mammary nodes.
  • What To Do If You Have Breast Cancer

    Breast Cancer: How to do a Breast Self Exam

    Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can feel crippling and life-altering for both patients and their families. With 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, it’s unfortunately a common diagnosis to face. For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, what happens next may be a mystery. Taking time to understand the diagnosis and weigh the options is crucial in receiving the necessary treatment.

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    Find Out Your Family History

    Women with a strong family history of cancer can take special steps to protect themselves, so its important for women to know their family history. You may be at high risk of breast cancer if you have a mother or sister who developed breast or ovarian cancer or if you have multiplefamily members who developed breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. A doctor or genetic counselor can help you understand your family history of the disease.

    What Should You Do If Youre At Higher Risk

    If you believe youre at higher risk, remember, knowledge is power! Talk to your doctor about risk assessment tools or use an online breast cancer risk calculator and find out exactly where you and your family fall. For those at high risk, consider a genetic test, which may give you additional information, ease your worries and help you create a prevention game plan. Remember to share your tests and health history with your family. You might get additional information about far-flung relatives and help loved ones make important health decisions.

    While your family history cannot be changed, there are many things you can do to make a difference. Quitting smoking, cutting out alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising are all habits that reduce your risk of breast cancer and improve your general health to boot. Those at high risk may also want to consider breastfeeding, avoiding hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives.

    If youre at higher risk, early detection is even more important. Stay up-to-date on cancer screening guidelines, get an annual mammogram , and get a regular ultrasound or MRI in addition to a mammogram if you have dense breasts. For those with an extremely high risk, talk to your doctor about breast cancer prevention medication like raloxifene and risk-reducing mastectomies.

    Also Check: Estrogen Responsive Breast Cancer


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