With the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in American women. Approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime(1). This is an overwhelming statistic, and given that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time for women to be reminded about the importance of breast cancer screenings.
What is Breast Cancer?
Cancer is a broad term for a class of diseases characterized by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. Breast cancer occurs when malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissue of the breast. Despite originating in the breast, these cells can go on to spread to other areas of the body(1).
What Causes Breast Cancer?
The tissue in your body is made up of cells, breast tissue included. Cell growth is cyclical, meaning old cells die out, and new cells are formed. But for some, the process of cell growth fails. Old, damaged cells do not die as they should, and new cells form when the body doesn’t need them. When this happens, a build-up of cells can form a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumor(1).
What are the Symptoms?
Early detection is key to combating breast cancer. It’s essential to know your breasts and watch for any of the following 12 symptoms or abnormalities(2):
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump, typically deep in the breast. It can be any shape or size, difficult to move, and often feels hard, like a lemon seed.
Unlike a hard lump, you may notice that a part of your breast feels less “squishy” to the touch. A thickening in your breast that does not go away with menstruation or breastfeeding should not be ignored.
Clothes and bras can leave temporary indentations on your breast. But when a dimple forms and does not go away, it may indicate the presence of a lump deep in the breast, pulling the skin inward.
Crust on the nipple can be a harmless, easily healed condition. But if the crust is not remedied, it could be a sign of breast cancer that lives in the nipple, creating a scab-like red or white crusted surface that can be sore.
Red or Warm
This one is tricky. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) occurs when cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast(5), causing swelling and redness without an apparent hard lump. Your breast may appear pink, red, or even bruised and feel warm to the touch.
Nipple discharge is common and harmless when associated with developing breasts, infection, cysts, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. But, seek medical attention if clear or bloody fluid is leaking from your breast outside of these changes.
Breast cancer present in the body for a significant length of time may break down the breast skin to form an open wound, usually accompanied by a hard lump.
Not all bumps within the breasts are cancer. Cysts or benign lumps are common. Some women even have lumpy breast tissue – which is consistent for them. This is why it’s necessary to be aware of the “normal” condition of your breasts and see a doctor if you notice anything new.
If you notice your nipple sinking, flattening, or turning, it could be a sign of a new tumor forming, pulling the nipple toward it as it grows.
An enlarged vein is one of the less common symptoms of breast cancer. New blood vessels and veins are common with weight gain, breastfeeding, and other body changes. However, if veins become more pronounced on the breast or near the collarbone, accompanied by a swollen arm, this could be a sign of breast cancer.
New Shape or Size
It’s normal for your breasts to differ. But if one breast changes size, flattens, swells, or droops unexpectedly, and these differences are not connected to your menstrual cycle, this could be a sign of breast cancer.
“Orange Peel” Skin
When breast skin looks like the dimpled skin of an orange, this is a symptom of breast cancer known as “peau d’orange,” French for "orange peel.” With peau d’orange, the breast swells to the point where it causes hair follicles to look like a collection of little dimples.
If you detect an abnormality, contact a medical professional immediately.
Have Your Annual Well-Woman Exam
Often, young women think they are healthy and bypass having their annual well-woman check. Please don’t ignore this exam. Being proactive, especially with your reproductive health, is essential.
At A Woman’s Place Medical Clinic, our compassionate medical staff does everything possible to make you feel comfortable and empowered. We provide in-depth education on general health and wellness areas, sexual health, and breast health.
Your well-woman appointment includes a comprehensive exam, including blood work with a full STI panel, a pap smear, a clinical breast exam, and education on at-home self-breast exams. A mammogram is prescribed if a patient has any concerns or if our Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) assesses any breast abnormalities. The mammogram x-ray of the breast is the best way to detect any signs of breast cancer.
Our APRN reviews all mammogram results and makes recommendations based on what they see.
*Our well-woman program is free to patients who qualify. Certain criteria must be met*
Don’t Wait to Talk to Your Doctor
According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%(4). Early detection includes monthly self-breast exams and scheduling your annual wellness checks, and clinical breast exams.
Make your health a priority! Don’t hesitate to contact your physician or the medical staff at A Woman’s Place Medical Clinic. We have four conveniently located clinics throughout the Tampa Bay area. Visit our website to learn more and to schedule your well-woman appointment today. We’re here for you!
- National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
- Know Your Lemons
- For the Love of Cups
- American Cancer Society
- The IBC Network Foundation