The Breast Cancer Map Step
Always Seek Medical Attention Even During The Coronavirus Pandemic
The key point is that a woman should seek medical attention for any concerning lumps in her breasts, says Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, a breast oncologist with the Susan F. Smith Center.
Simple imaging techniques, such as a mammogram or breast ultrasound, can usually provide reassurance that the breast lump is benign. If necessary, a breast MRI or biopsy can be used to evaluate whether the lump is cancerous.
Know What Could Happen If Left Untreated
Another thing that is often overlooked with lumps in the breast is what will become of them if no action is taken. Remember, please keep in mind that not all lumps are cancerous and most women who find a lump will be given an all clear’ when they get checked out by their doctor but this doesn’t always mean it was nothing!
Sometimes these lumps’ will turn out to be an infection when they’re examined more closely or even when they’re removed do you really want to take that chance?
A good physician knows when something just isn’t right and they’ll recommend further testing regardless of whether they found any cancer during their examination or not.
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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.
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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What To Watch For
It’s important to know how your breasts normally look and feel so that you don’t miss any abnormalities.
When your breasts are examined by a doctor, they will be looking for anything out of the ordinary including lumps, pain around specific areas of the breast, changes in size or shape, skin abnormalities , nipple changes , redness or flaking of the skin on or around the nipples, discharge from either of the nipples, etc.
If you find something suspicious then visit your physician immediately! Don’t wait until tomorrow because some types of cancer can spread very quickly in the body and can become life-threatening if left untreated. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Why You Shouldnt Think Twice About Getting A Lump Checked
A womans risk for breast cancer is highest after the age of 50, but even young women can develop breast cancer. Since any lump could potentially be cancerous, its critical that you have any lump you may have felt evaluated by a doctor no matter your age.
While many lumps will end up being benign breast lump disease, many others wont be and we dont want to miss out on diagnosing breast cancer, says Dr. Joshi. Through mammograms and other imaging modalities, breast cancer is very easy to catch and diagnose, and when caught early breast cancer is very, very treatable.
In addition, Dr. Joshi says you shouldnt avoid having a lump checked just because youre worried about having a painful biopsy.
Mammograms and breast ultrasounds are very powerful tools that can help us diagnose even the smallest breast cancers with very high specificity, explains Dr. Joshi. We dont need to biopsy the lump in every case.
Lastly, if youre nervous about going to your doctors office to have a lump checked during COVID-19, dont be. Houston Methodist doctor offices and imaging centers have enhanced safety measures in place and are taking extra precautions to keep you safe during your appointment or mammogram, including:
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Other Changes In The Breasts
You may see or feel other changes in your breasts.
See a health care provider if you notice any of these warning signs of breast cancer :
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesnt go away
Pain in your breasts may be related to your menstrual period. However, if the pain doesnt go away, dont ignore it. Although pain is rarely a sign of breast cancer, its best to see a health care provider to be sure.
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.
Why You Shouldn’t Think Twice About Getting A Lump Checked
A woman’s risk for breast cancer is highest after the age of 50, but even young women can develop breast cancer. Since any lump could potentially be cancerous, it’s critical that you have any lump you may have felt evaluated by a doctor no matter your age.
“While many lumps will end up being benign breast lump disease, many others won’t be and we don’t want to miss out on diagnosing breast cancer,” says Dr. Joshi. “Through mammograms and other imaging modalities, breast cancer is very easy to catch and diagnose, and when caught early breast cancer is very, very treatable.”
In addition, Dr. Joshi says you shouldn’t avoid having a lump checked just because you’re worried about having a painful biopsy.
“Mammograms and breast ultrasounds are very powerful tools that can help us diagnose even the smallest breast cancers with very high specificity,” explains Dr. Joshi. “We don’t need to biopsy the lump in every case.”
Lastly, if you’re nervous about going to your doctor’s office to have a lump checked during COVID-19, don’t be. Houston Methodist doctor offices and imaging centers have enhanced safety measures in place and are taking extra precautions to keep you safe during your appointment or mammogram, including:
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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How Big Are Breast Cancer Lumps
That said, the longer a cancerous lump grows, the greater the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This is why it is important that people speak with a doctor as soon as they notice a lump in their breast of any size.
Benign breast lumps are non-cancerous, and it is normal for people to have them at some point during their lives. Cysts and fibroadenomas are examples of benign breast lumps.
According to Breastcancer.org, symptoms of benign breast lumps include:
- general breast pain
- nipple pain
- yellow or green discharge from the nipple
However, some types of breast cancer also present with these symptoms, so it is important that a person speaks with a doctor as soon as they notice any changes in their breast.
Also, some benign breast conditions can increase the risk of a person developing breast cancer later in life. In these cases, a doctor will draw up a treatment plan and monitor the breast for any changes.
How Breast Cancer Spreads
Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and then are carried to other parts of the body.
The lymph system is a part of your body’s immune system. It is a network of lymph nodes , ducts or vessels, and organs that work together to collect and carry clear lymph fluid through the body tissues to the blood. The clear lymph fluid inside the lymph vessels contains tissue by-products and waste material, as well as immune system cells.
The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid away from the breast. In the case of breast cancer, cancer cells can enter those lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes. Most of the lymph vessels of the breast drain into:
- Lymph nodes under the arm
- Lymph nodes inside the chest near the breastbone
- Lymph nodes around the collar bone
If cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that the cells could have traveled through the lymph system and spread to other parts of your body. Still, not all women with cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases, and some women with no cancer cells in their lymph nodes might develop metastases later.
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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.
Which Breast Lumps Should Women Worry About
Breast lumps are frightening, but fairly common. And while you already know that a lump could potentially signal breast cancer, you’ve probably also heard that most lumps are noncancerous, or benign.
So how can you tell if a breast lump needs to be checked out by a doctor?
“All breast lumps need to be evaluated by a physician, regardless of your age or where in your breast you feel the lump,” says Dr. Joshi. “More often than not, breast lumps are harmless. But, any lump could potentially be breast cancer, and it’s impossible for a woman to determine whether her lump is cancerous or benign just by feeling it.”
That being said, Dr. Joshi says that there are some features that make a lump particularly concerning, including:
- Changes in the skin over the lump
- Nipple changes, including enlargement or bloody discharge
- Changes in the size of the lump
“Additionally, having a family history of breast cancer makes it more likely that a lump could be cancerous,” warns Dr. Joshi.
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What Is The Staging For Breast Cancer
Stage I and II breast cancers
- Early-stage localized breast cancer
- Tumor is less than 2 cm in size and is node negative
- Stage II tumors have spread to the axillary lymph nodes and/or a tumor size larger than 2 cm but smaller than 5 cm
Stage III breast cancers
- Locally advanced breast cancer
- Large breast tumors
- Extensive axillary lymph node involvement , nodal involvement of both axillary and internal mammary nodes at diagnosis, or nodal involvement of the soft tissues above or below the collarbone
- A tumor is also considered to be stage III if it extends to underlying muscles of the chest wall or the overlying skin
- Inflammatory breast cancer is at least stage III even if it is small and does not involve lymph nodes
Stage IV breast cancer
- Metastatic breast cancer
- Tumors have spread to areas outside the breast and lymph nodes to the bones, lungs, liver, or other organs
- The primary tumor in the breast may be any size, and there can be any number of affected lymph nodes
When Should I See A Doctor For A Breast Lump
In some cases, you should see your doctor if you find a lump on your breast. Make an appointment if you notice:
- A lump or any change in the area near your armpit
- A lump that feels harder than other areas of the breast
- Any sudden change in the texture of your breast tissue
If you have any doubts about the changes youve noticed in your breast, call your doctor to put your worries to rest.
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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.