Understanding Breast Cancer – Symptoms & Diagnosis

Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of breast cells. To better understand breast cancer, it helps to understand how any cancer can develop.

 

breast cancer

 

Cancer occurs as a result of mutations, or abnormal changes, in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy. The genes are in each cell’s nucleus, which acts as the “control room” of each cell. Normally, the cells in our bodies replace themselves through an orderly process of cell growth: healthy new cells take over as old ones die out. But over time, mutations can “turn on” certain genes and “turn off” others in a cell. That changed cell gains the ability to keep dividing without control or order, producing more cells just like it and forming a tumor.

A tumor can be benign (not dangerous to health) or malignant (has the potential to be dangerous). Benign tumors are not considered cancerous: their cells are close to normal in appearance, they grow slowly, and they do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous. Left unchecked, malignant cells eventually can spread beyond the original tumor to other parts of the body.

The term “breast cancer” refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. Usually breast cancer either begins in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands, or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple. Less commonly, breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissues, which include the fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast.

Risk Factors:

Gender, Stress and Anxiety, Being Overweight, Smoking, Personal history of breast cancer, etc.

Symptoms

Breast cancer symptoms vary widely — from lumps to swelling to skin changes — and many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all. Symptoms that are similar to those of breast cancer may be the result of non-cancerous conditions like infection or a cyst.

Initially, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. A lump may be too small for you to feel or to cause any unusual changes you can notice on your own. Often, an abnormal area turns up on a screening mammogram (X-ray of the breast), which leads to further testing.

In some cases, however, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But sometimes cancers can be tender, soft, and rounded. So it’s important to have anything unusual checked by your doctor.

According to the American Cancer Society, any of the following unusual changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:
•swelling of all or part of the breast
•skin irritation or dimpling
•breast pain
•nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
•redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
•a nipple discharge other than breast milk
•a lump in the underarm area

These changes also can be signs of less serious conditions that are not cancerous, such as an infection or a cyst. It’s important to get any breast changes checked out promptly by a doctor.

Breast self-exam should be part of your monthly health care routine, and you should visit your doctor if you experience breast changes. If you’re over 40 or at a high risk for the disease, you should also have an annual mammogram and physical exam by a doctor. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of beating it.

Diagnosis:

Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two breast cancers are exactly the same, either. Your doctor will order a series of tests on the cancer and nearby tissues to create a “profile” of how the breast cancer looks and behaves. Some of these tests are done after the initial biopsy (removal of tissue sample for testing), others in the days and weeks after lumpectomy or mastectomy. Each time testing is done, your doctor receives a report of results from the laboratory. All of these lab reports together make up your complete pathology report.

Your pathology report is so important because it provides information you and your doctor need to make the best treatment choices for your particular diagnosis. Those decisions depend on knowing characteristics such as:
•the size and appearance of the cancer
•how quickly it grows
•any signs of spread to nearby healthy tissues
•whether certain things inside the body — such as hormones or genetic mutations (abnormal changes in genes) — are factors in the cancer’s growth and development.

Source: Breastcancer.org

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