Eliminating the Threat: Identifying Breast Cancer Symptoms Early
Breast cancer is regarded as a very real threat by both women and the partners, children, and family that love them. There’s plenty of good reason for that; it’s the most common invasive cancer in women, and comes in second as the cause of cancer deaths in women. Breast cancer awareness is everyone’s cause, as the women of the world and those in our lives are especially valuable and important. It’s helpful that both women and men learn breast cancer symptoms as well as signs that can indicate the onset of inflammatory breast cancer.
Knowledge is power, and if you’re a woman then you’ll be wise to familiarize with breast cancer symptoms as well as the types of breast cancer and causes of breast cancer. Not only will you feel better about being proactive with breast cancer awareness, but you’ll be doing the same for all the people who care about you.
Types of Breast Cancer
There are 5 different types of breast cancer according to the DSM-IV used by physicians to classify human body conditions. They are ductal carcinoma, lobular carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, Paget disease of the breast, and triple negative breast cancer. In addition, there are two types of cancer that can be seen in the breast but are not classified as breast cancer.
These two are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma. We won’t take a detailed look at those 2 here, and only at the 5 primary types of breast cancer and specific breast cancer symptoms if they apply:
- Ductal carcinoma – This cancer involves cell structure changes in the ones that line the ducts of the breast.
- Lobular carcinoma – Lobules are the groups of glands in a woman’s breast that make milk, and lobular carcinoma is when cancer takes root in the cells of these glands.
- Inflammatory breast cancer – This cancer involves cancer cells blocking the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. The breast becomes red and swollen, and this is why it’s called inflammatory breast cancer and a reason why inflammatory breast cancer has the most readily-visible breast cancer symptoms.
- Paget disease of the breast – Paget cells are malignant cells and when they are found around the nipple and areola of a woman’s breast then it almost always indicates Paget disease of the breast. Typically it involves the woman having one or more tumors in the breast. Paget disease of the breast is uncommon.
- Triple-negative breast cancer – This one of the types of breast cancer involves cancerous cells in the breast testing negative for hormone epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2), estrogen receptors, and progesterone receptors - the 3 most common types of receptors for breast cancer. Thus the name triple negative.
This is the least common form of breast cancer, but it’s also one of the most serious. Most times a mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast) is required.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer symptoms are only seen once the disease has established itself in the cells of the breast. Typically it starts in the inner lining of the milk ducts or lobules that deliver the milk supply to the nipple and areola. Breast cancer can be the result of any number of different causes, but the most common ones are:
- Age – As a woman ages her risk of developing breast cancer increases. At 20 the risk of incidence over the next ten years is a low 0.6%. By the time a woman is 70, that number grows to 3.84%.
- Genetics – It is possible to inherit a genetic predisposition to developing breast cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that strongly promote both breast and ovarian cancer are very easily passed on from mother to daughter. Same story for another breast cancer causing gene – TP53.
- Prior history – If you’ve had breast cancer before, you’re more likely to have it again.
- Dense breast tissue – Researchers have determined that breast cancer develops more easily in higher density breast tissue.
- Estrogen exposure – Starting to have your period earlier than average or beginning menopause later than average may be factors too. This is because either of these realities means that the woman is exposed to high estrogen levels for a longer period of time. This extended exposure to the hormone is believed to contribute to increased breast cancer risks.
- Body weight – Women who are overweight or obese after menopause are at higher risk of breast cancer.
- Hormonal treatments – HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and the use of oral birth control pills have been linked to breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Of all breast cancer symptoms, the two that are nearly always noticed first is an area of thickened tissue in the breast, and / or a lump in the breast or armpit. Women may also feel a pain in the armpits or breast that does not subside, and pitting or redness of the skin on the breast is common too. To give you an idea, this pitting is much like what you’d on the skin of an orange.
Other breast cancer symptoms include:
- Rash around or on one of the nipples
- Discharge from the nipple, which may contain blood
- Sunken or inverted nipple
- Change in size or shape of the breast
- Scaling, peeling, or flaking of skin on the breast or nipple
While diligent breast cancer awareness is encouraged, it is helpful to know that most lumps that are found will NOT be cancerous. That said, any and all do warrant a visit with your doctor.
Inflammatory breast cancer comes with different breast cancer symptoms, and it’s important that we highlight those here as well. Symptoms unique to inflammatory breast cancer are:
- Severely swollen breast or unexplained major changes in size
- Lumps that can be found either in the armpit or nearer to the collarbone
It should be noted that inflammatory breast cancer symptoms are very similar to those of mastitis, which is an infection of breast tissue that is most commonly seen in breastfeeding women. Misdiagnosis is a real risk.
Given the fact that breast cancer threatens all of the wonderful women in our lives, a last recommendation here is to support breast cancer awareness initiatives whenever possible. If you are not familiar with it there are plenty of informative resources online. Visit it a few of them and build up your knowledge base.