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Breast Cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. Though it usually presents first with a suspicious mass, every breast mass is not necessarily a cancerous one. Learn now how to differentiate between breast masses, and when to worry or not.

The only way to differentiate a malignant from a benign breast mass is through biopsy.

However, clue signs such as the orange peel skin sign (“peau d’orange”) or the nipple inversion are highly indicative of breast cancer.

So when you palpate the mass and feel the characteristic presenting signs abovementioned, there are millions of possible types of cancer.

Intraductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. The cancerous cells develop from the lactiferous ducts, then break through the basement membrane of the lactiferous ducts and proliferate in the surrounding fatty tissue. However, if the cancer develops in the breast lobules (glandular tissue), we talk about lobular breast carcinoma, and this type of cancer is more difficult to detect on a mammogram. Another type of breast cancer, Inflammatory Breast Cancer, makes the skin of the breast appear warm and soft, just like in inflammation.

Worrisome Spread

However, if the cancer develops in the breast lobules (glandular tissue), we talk about lobular breast carcinoma, and this type of cancer is more difficult to detect on a mammogram. Another type of breast cancer, Inflammatory Breast Cancer, makes the skin of the breast appear warm and soft, just like in inflammation.

This can easily be confused with the lump caused by a local breast trauma (fat necrosis), henceforth any redness, swelling, warmth or discoloration of a section of breast should raise your attention.

Angiosarcoma, a cancer that develops from the lining of the blood vessels can also occur in the breast vascular system, though rare. Another type of rare malignant breast tumor is the phyllodes tumor, which histologically is shaped as a leaf. Other types of breast cancers include medullary carcinoma, papillary carcinoma and mucinous carcinoma.

Getting a Clearer Picture

Out of all the types of breast cancers, the intraductal and intralobular carcinomas are those that are the most commonly associated with genetics. This is why in women with a family history of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2), and even for those with a history of breast masses, the serial mammograms have to start earlier (by age 30-35) compared to women who do not have a family history of breast cancer (they can start doing yearly mammograms in their late 40s). Additionally, there are some other known genetic mutations that put  one at risk of developing multiple cancers, including breast cancer, and here also genetic studies are warranted.

Finding your way: what is the best solution?

Thanks to technology and the huge progress in medicine compared to the times of Hippocrate, breast cancer is not a fatality anymore (just like other diseases). If you are diagnosed with it, there is a myriad of options that you can choose from, to guarantee the best treatment for you, based on your priorities and personal needs. From intensive chemotherapy to radiation therapy or mastectomy, the possibilities are endless, and you don’t have to even “think” of dying of breast cancer anymore. The number of survivors is increasing, and the touching stories are being multiplied.

Though treatment options are varied and widely made available (especially in the developed word), early diagnosis is and still remains the most important predictor of prognosis.

In other words, the earlier the cancer is detected, the better the chances of survival/cure. With that said, get cracking, and should you feel the smallest “abnormal” mass around your breast, report to your doctor as soon as possible!

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