Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all.
But as the cancer grows, it can cause changes that women should watch for:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area;
- A change in the size or shape of the breast;
- Nipple discharge or tenderness, or the nipple pulled back (inverted) into the breast;
- Ridges or pitting of the breast (the skin looks like the skin of an orange); or
- A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple looks or feels (for example, warm, swollen, red, or scaly).
Detection of Breast Cancer
Women can take an active part in the early detection of breast cancer by having regularly scheduled screening mammograms and clinical breast exams (breast exams performed by health professionals). Some women also perform breast self-exams.
A screening mammogram is the best tool available for finding breast cancer early, before symptoms appear. A mammogram is a special kind of x-ray. Screening mammograms are used to look for breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer.
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer, and there are several types of surgery. The doctor can explain each type, discuss and compare their benefits and risks, and describe how each will affect the patient's appearance.
- Breast-sparing surgery or breast-conserving surgery.
This is an operation to remove the cancer but not the breast. Lumpectomy and segmental mastectomy (also called partial mastectomy) are types of breast-sparing surgery. After breast-sparing surgery, most women receive radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells that remain in the area.
The surgeon removes the breast cancer and some normal tissue around it. (Sometimes an excisional biopsy serves as a lumpectomy.) Often, some of the lymph nodes under the arm are removed.
- Segmental mastectomy:
The surgeon removes the cancer and a larger area of normal breast tissue around it. Occasionally, some of the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor is removed as well. Some lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed.
An operation to remove the breast (or as much of the breast as possible) is a mastectomy. Breast reconstruction is often an option at the same time as the mastectomy, or later on.
- Total mastectomy:
In total (simple) mastectomy, the surgeon removes the whole breast. Some lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed.
- Reconstructive Surgery
After a mastectomy, some women decide to wear a breast form (prosthesis). Others prefer to have breast reconstruction, either at the same time as the mastectomy or later on. Each option has its pros and cons, and what is right for one woman may not be right for another. What is important is that nearly every woman treated for breast cancer has choices. It is best to consult with a plastic surgeon before the mastectomy, even if reconstruction will be considered later on.