Table of Contents
Signs and symptoms
These may include the following:
- A sensation of a lump or thickening in the tissue of the breast which feels different than that of the surrounding tissue.
- There's a change in the shape, size and/or appearance of the breast.
- There could be a bloody discharge from the nipple.
- Skin changes on the breast such as forming dimples.
- The new appearance of an inverted nipple.
- Changes of the skin of the breast or areola which involves scaling, peeling or flaking.
- Pitting or reddening of the skin of the breast which resembles the skin of an orange.
- Advancing age is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Gender - the risk is increased in females more than it is in males.
- Personal history of breast cancer - being diagnosed with cancer in one breast increases the chances of developing it in the other one.
- Family history of breast cancer - a first-degree relative (mother, aunt, sister) diagnosed with breast cancer, especially at a young age, increases the risk to the patient. It's important to note that the majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer have NO family history of this disease.
- Genes associated with an increased risk of breast cancer - mutations on certain genes increase a person's risk of developing breast cancer. These genes include BRCA 1 and BRCA2.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Radiation exposure to the chest.
- Beginning menstruation before the age of 12.
- Beginning menopause at a more advanced age.
- Giving birth to the first child after 35 years of age.
- Having never been pregnant.
- Using postmenopausal hormone medication, to alleviate the symptoms associated with menopause, can slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
Diagnosing breast cancer is done by performing certain examinations and procedures. They are as follows:
- Bimanual breast exam - a doctor will use both hands to check for any lumps or abnormal thickenings in the breast tissue and the lymph nodes in the armpits.
- Ultrasound - this is a procedure where sonar waves are sued to determine the difference between solid and fluid-filled masses in the breast.
- Mammogram - this is essentially an X-ray of the breast and is used for screening purposes. If the screening test picks up an abnormality, then the patient is sent for a diagnostic mammogram.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - this is a more precise test which gives a better visualization of any breast tissue abnormalities.
- Biopsy - a sample of breast tissue is surgically removed in order to assess it for any cancer cells. Other aspects which are looked for include what types of cancer cells are visible, the aggressiveness of the cancer and whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors which will affect the treatment options available to the patient.
The treatment options available for breast cancer are quite extensive, but they can be divided into the following interventions:
- Surgery - which may involve one or both breasts, with or without removal of lymph nodes.
- Radiation therapy.