The available evidence suggests that breast cancer may begin to grow around 10 years before it is detected. However, the time for development differs from tumor to tumor.
What are the initial signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow uncontrollably and destroy the normal cells. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is called metastasized cancer. The initial signs of breast cancer include:
- A lump in the breast or underarms is often the first sign. It may also be associated with pain, itching and tenderness.
- Changes in the nipple area, nipple retraction and inverted nipple are common warning signs of breast cancer.
- Bleeding from the nipple may be limited and difficult to see, but if an individual notices bloodstains on bra and if the secretions are unusual, bloody or continuous, the individual may need urgent medical attention.
- Change in color and/or thickening of the skin on the breast is a warning sign of breast cancer. If the breast skin changes color, typically to a pink or reddish hue that covers more than half of the breast, you need to show your doctor.
- A nonhealing sore anywhere on the breast, including the nipple with or without blood or fluid from the nipple, maybe a warning sign of breast cancer.
- Increased warmth in the breast with change in size and appearance of the breast is a sign of breast cancer.
How can we detect breast cancer in the early stage?
Regular mammograms can help an individual detect breast cancer in early stages. Mammogram is a screening test that usually detects breast cancer when it’s about one-quarter inch in size or smaller. Mammograms can also diagnose some early precancerous conditions and early-stage cancers that appear as tiny calcifications (microcalcifications) on mammography but are not detectable by physical examination. There are two types of mammogram:
- Screening mammogram: It is usually performed annually in cases where there is no known problem.
- Diagnostic mammogram: It is performed when there is a known problem that requires careful evaluation. Diagnostic mammograms provide much more extensive images than screening mammograms, such as views from additional angles and compression or blow-up views. Often, an ultrasound will be performed in addition to the mammogram if there is a palpable lump.
- Screening ultrasound and biopsy of the lump are performed when the lump is noticed and to confirm if the lump is cancer or aggressive.
What are the different stages of breast cancer?
The stages of breast cancer are as follows:
- Stage 0: Doctors consider breast cancer at this stage noninvasive, and it is only present in the ducts or the lobules. Ductal carcinoma in situ is a form of stage 0 breast cancer.
- Stage 1: Breast cancer at this stage is invasive, but it remains small and near the primary site. Stage 1A involves tumors that are 2 cm or smaller and have not reached the lymph nodes. At stage 1B, the cancer has reached the lymph nodes.
- Stage 2: Stage 2 breast cancers are invasive. Tumors may be larger than that in stage 1 and the cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: Stage 3 breast cancer is invasive, tumors may be larger and cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, possibly to several lymph nodes. Breast cancer at this stage has not spread to further organs.
- Stage 4: Breast cancer has developed in other areas of the body outside the breast and lymph nodes, often in the bones, lungs, brain or liver. Treatment at this stage focuses on controlling the cancer and preventing it from spreading any farther.
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What you should know about breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.
- One in every eight women in the United States develops breast cancer.
- There are many types of breast cancer that differ in their capability of spreading (metastasize) to other body tissues.
- The causes of breast cancer are unknown, although medical professionals have identified a number of risk factors.
- There are many different types of breast cancer.
- Breast cancer symptoms and signs include
- a lump in the breast or armpit,
- bloody nipple discharge,
- inverted nipple,
- orange-peel texture or dimpling of the breast's skin (peau d'orange),
- breast pain or sore nipple,
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpit, and
- a change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple.
- Breast cancer can also be symptom free, which makes following national screening recommendations an important practice.
- Breast cancer is diagnosed during a physical exam, by a self-exam of the breasts, mammography, ultrasound testing, and biopsy.
- Treatment of breast cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage (0-IV) and may involve surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
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