How Breast Cancer Starts
The breast is a highly complex part of the human body. The female breast goes through many changes over a lifetime from birth, puberty, pregnancy and breastfeeding, right through to menopause.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, understanding the anatomy of the breast and the role each part has to play can be helpful to understand your diagnosis. It can also help you talk to your doctor about surgery and other treatment options.
In this piece we cover:-Understanding Breast Anatomy-Normal Breast Changes Through Life-How Does Cancer Start in the Breast?-How Does Cancer Spread Beyond the Breast?-Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Fat Necrosis And Lipoma
If fatty tissue in the breast becomes damaged or broken down, fat necrosis may occur. Noncancerous lumps can form in the breast. They may be painful. There may be a nipple discharge and a dimpling of the skin over the lump.
A lipoma is soft, noncancerous lump that is generally movable and painless. It is a benign, fatty tumor.
How Long Can You Have Breast Cancer Without Knowing
Breast cancer must divide 30 times before it can be felt, and neither you nor your doctor can detect it until the 28th cell division. Because most breast cancers take one to two months to divide, by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, the cancer has already been in your body for two to five years.
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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.
Common Causes Of Benign Breast Lumps
Most benign breast lumps and conditions are directly related to your menstrual cycle, to fluctuations in your hormones, and to the fluid buildup that comes with your monthly period. Other benign breast lumps and conditions may be related to plugged milk ducts, infections, or even breast injuries. The risk for benign breast conditions increases for women who have never had children and those who have a history of irregular menstrual cycles or a family history of breast cancer.
Here are some of the most common benign breast conditions.
Fibrocystic changes These changes cause a general lumpiness that can be described as ropy or granular, and affect at least half of all women. Symptoms of fibrocystic change include tender, fibrous, rubbery tissue a thickening of tissue or a round, fluid-filled cyst. These changes, which are related to hormonal fluctuation, may increase as you approach middle age and disappear with menopause. Sometimes doctors recommend limiting salt and caffeine consumption to ease fluid buildup. Birth control pills may also ease symptoms.
Mastitis An infection of the milk duct, mastitis can create a lumpy, red, and warm breast, accompanied by fever. It occurs most commonly in women who are breastfeeding, but can occur in non-breastfeeding women as well. Treatment involves warm compresses and antibiotics. Because these symptoms are similar to inflammatory breast cancer, if they occur in a non-breastfeeding woman a doctor may want to do a biopsy.
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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.
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Breast Changes Of Concern
Some breast changes can be felt by a woman or her health care provider, but most can be detected only during an imaging procedure such as a mammogram, MRI, or ultrasound. Whether a breast change was found by your doctor or you noticed a change, its important to follow up with your doctor to have the change checked and properly diagnosed.
Check with your health care provider if your breast looks or feels different, or if you notice one of these symptoms:
- Lump or firm feeling in your breast or under your arm. Lumps come in different shapes and sizes. Normal breast tissue can sometimes feel lumpy. Doing breast self-exams can help you learn how your breasts normally feel and make it easier to notice and find any changes, but breast self-exams are not a substitute for mammograms.
- Nipple changes or discharge. Nipple discharge may be different colors or textures. It can be caused by birth control pills, some medicines, and infections. But because it can also be a sign of cancer, it should always be checked.
- Skin that is itchy, red, scaled, dimpled or puckered
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How Are Breast Lumps Diagnosed And Evaluated
Most breast lumps are benign . Proving that a lump is not cancer often involves imaging tests. One or more of the following imaging tests may be performed:
- mammogram: Mammography uses low dose x-rays to examine the breasts. This type of imaging involves exposing the breasts to a small amount of ionizing radiation to obtain pictures of the inside of the breasts. Either two single images or two tomosynthesis images are taken of each breast to begin the evaluation. Additional images may be needed. See theSafety page for more information about x-rays.
- breast ultrasound: Breast ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the breasts. Breast ultrasound can capture images of areas of the breast that may be difficult to see with mammography. It can also help to determine whether a breast lump is solid or fluid.
- breast MRI: Breast MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radiofrequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the inside of the breasts. MRI is helpful in evaluating breast lumps that are not visible with mammography or ultrasoundalthough it may not be appropriate for all women. Your doctor will help determine if breast MRI is right for you. Breast MRI requires injection of contrast material.
If a lump is proven to be benign by its appearance on these exams, no further steps may need to be taken. Your doctor may want to monitor the area at future visits to check if the breast lump has changed, grown or gone away.
How Fast Does A Breast Cancer Lump Grow
Breast cancer has to divide 30 times before it can be felt by touch. Up to the 28th cell division, neither you nor your doctor can detect it by hand. With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, cancer has been in your body for two to five years.
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Will Lumps Go Away On Their Own
Sometimes, lumps disappear on their own. Younger people may get lumps related to the menstrual cycle . Those lumps go away by the end of the cycle. However, always notify your healthcare provider about any lumps. Your provider can figure out what is causing the lump and determine if it needs further workup or treatment.
What Does A Tumor Feel Like Under The Skin
Lumps, tumors and all sorts of things one can feel in the breast can feel surprisingly similar: firm, as opposed to the normal, more spongy tissue of the breast. They are often irregularly shaped as opposed to a sphere or ball shape. Lumps are also usually mobile within the breast, and can be moved around within the breast.
However, its important to note that this can vary from person to person. Ultimately, anytime you feel something thats different from what your normal breast tissue feels like, or if you notice anything that generally feels unusual, you should speak to her medical team about that.
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Is Surgery Necessary For Breast Lumps
- In general, surgery is not necessary to treat breast pain unless a mass is found. Surgery is performed to remove a lump.
- If an abscess is present, it must be drained. After injection of local anesthetic, the doctor may drain an abscess near the surface of the skin either by aspiration with a needle and syringe or by using a small incision. This can be done in the doctors office or Emergency Department.
- If the abscess is deep in the breast, it may require surgical drainage in the operating room. This is usually done under general anesthesia in order to minimize pain and completely drain the abscess. If your infection worsens in spite of oral antibiotics or if you have a deep abscess requiring surgical treatment, you may be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics.
Swelling In Or Around Your Breast Collarbone Or Armpit
Swelling in these areas can occur for many reasons but may indicate cancer. Breast swelling can be caused by certain types of breast cancer. Swelling or lumps around your collarbone or armpits can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes in those areas. The swelling can occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast. If you have swelling, be sure to let your health care team know as soon as possible.
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Complementary And Alternative Medicine Concerns
Certain herbal supplements and diets have been touted as effective treatments for fibroadenomas or their symptoms, but few controlled studies have looked into these remedies. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and eating lots of fruits and vegetables, is always good advice and may help relieve fibroadenoma symptoms. But remember that these interventions shouldn’t replace proper testing and treatment. By self-treating, you may be risking your health.
CAM approaches don’t replace the need for proper testing and treatment. Without a biopsy, and possibly removal of the fibroadenoma, there is always a chance that breast cancer could be missed. This is critical, as the disease is most easily treated in its early stages.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated
If the tests find cancer, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan to eradicate the breast cancer, to reduce the chance of cancer returning in the breast, as well as to reduce the chance of the cancer traveling to a location outside of the breast. Treatment generally follows within a few weeks after the diagnosis.
The type of treatment recommended will depend on the size and location of the tumor in the breast, the results of lab tests done on the cancer cells, and the stage, or extent, of the disease. Your doctor will usually consider your age and general health as well as your feelings about the treatment options.
Breast cancer treatments are local or systemic. Local treatments are used to remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a specific area, such as the breast. Surgery and radiation treatment are local treatments. Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are systemic treatments. A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on her individual diagnosis.
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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.
What Kind Of Lumps Are Normal In Breasts
Cysts, which are fluid-filled lumps, are common in the breast and are benign. They form when fluid builds up inside the breast glands, and tend to be smooth or round. Fibroadenomas are benign tumors made up of glandular and connective breast tissue. They are usually soft and firm or rubbery to the touch.
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Signs Of Benign Breast Masses
In contrast to breast cancer tumors, benign lumps are often squishy. They may feel like a soft rubber ball with well-defined margins. They’re often easy to move around and may be tender.
Infections in the breast can cause redness and swelling. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between mastitis and inflammatory breast cancer, but mastitis often causes symptoms of fever, chills, and body aches. Those symptoms aren’t associated with cancer.
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Symptoms Of Benign Breast Lumps
Benign breast lumps can appear anywhere in your breast. They may or may not be painful, and can be large or small. Sometimes a lump can develop alongside other symptoms too.
See your GP if you develop any of the following symptoms.
- A lump or thickening in your breast or armpit.
- A change in the size, shape or feel of your breasts.
- Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin on your breast.
- A change in the shape or position of your nipple for instance, if it starts turning inwards towards your breast .
- A rash around your nipple area.
- Discharge from one or both nipples.
- Pain that doesnt go away in one part of your breast or armpit.
Although most breast lumps are found to be benign , these symptoms can sometimes be a sign of breast cancer. So, its important to get any unusual symptoms you notice checked by a doctor.
The Breast Cancer Centers At Ctca
At the Breast Cancer Centers at each of our CTCA® hospitals, located across the nation, our cancer experts are devoted to a single missiontreating breast cancer patients with compassion and precision. Each patients care team is led by a medical oncologist and coordinated by a registered oncology nurse, who helps track the various appointments, follow up on tests and answer questions that come up along the way. Your care team also may include a breast surgeon, radiation oncologist, radiologist, pathologist and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with advanced training in helping patients restore function and appearance. Fertility preservation and genetic testing are also available for qualifying patients who need them.
Our pathologists and oncologists are experienced and trained in tools designed to diagnose, stage and treat different types of breast cancer, from early-stage ductal carcinoma in situ to complex diseases such as triple-negative and inflammatory breast cancer. As part of our patient-centered care model, which is designed to help you keep strong during treatment, your multidisciplinary care team may recommend various evidence-informed supportive therapies, such as naturopathic support, psychosocial support, nutritional support, physical and occupational therapy and pain management. The entire team works together with a whole-person focus, which is at the heart of our centers dedication to personalized and comprehensive care.
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What Are Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are small, rounded structures of about 1 mm to 25 mm that are found throughout the body.
The lymph nodes form part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system that protects the body from disease and infection. It contains a network of thin tubes called lymph vessels that are found throughout the body. These lymph vessels transport a clear fluid called lymph between the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes filter the lymph to trap or remove substances harmful to the body, such as bacteria or cancer cells. This helps to protect the body from disease or infection. The lymph then passes back to the blood.
The closest lymph nodes to the breast are those in the armpit, which are known as axillary nodes. The axillary nodes drain lymph from nearby tissues, including the breast. There are also lymph nodes under the breastbone and in the neck . The number of lymph nodes varies between different people. There are usually about 15-30 lymph nodes in the armpit.
Because the lymph vessels carry lymph away from the breast, in the case of breast cancer, cancer cells can enter the lymph vessels and begin to grow in the lymph nodes. The axillary nodes are often the first place of cancer spread outside the breast. Usually, surgery is used to remove one or more of the axillary nodes to help check for cancer spread. Cancer found in the lymph nodes affects the staging and treatment of breast cancer.
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