Breast cancer affects every 1 out of 8 women in US. That makes 12% of the total population of women. It is the second most common cancer that predominantly affects women. For breast cancer, the most significant risk factor is the gender (being woman) and increasing age. Almost 85% of cases of breast cancer occur due to genetic mutation (sudden change in gene) that is not hereditary. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to address the increasing incidence of breast cancer.
Importance Of Self-Diagnosing Breast Cancer:
Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that has the potential to metastasize. Therefore, not every tumor (the mass of abnormal cells) is cancerous. Cancer is only that tumor or abnormal cells that has the ability to invade other cells and tissues. Other types of tumors are known as benign or innocent tumors. As cancer starts invading other tissues with the progression of disease, it is imperative to treat it as early as possible with direction from your medical doctor.
- Staging Of Breast Cancer:
An important system to classify the severity or advancement of breast cancer (also other types of cancer) is staging system. Staging of tumor describes the size of tumor and how far it has spread. There are total 5 stages of breast cancer, 0 – IV. The fourth stage is the most advanced one in which the cancer usually spreads to multiple organs.
- Advancement Of Breast Cancer:
Cancer of any type, including breast cancer, is difficult to treat once it has progressed to an advanced stage. At initial stages, even only local treatment is effective and survival rates are considerably high. With the progression of the disease, breast cancer invades surrounding tissues and ultimately reaches other organs through lymphatic channel (sometimes through blood also).
In the last stage of breast cancer, it has already spread to other organs as well. This decreases the survival rates. Also, the local treatment alone is not sufficient to treat a high stage breast cancer. Systemic treatment that circulates in the whole body is needed. Generally, cancer in stage IV is treatable but cannot be eliminated completely. Speak to your doctor on what is best for you.
- Identify Breast Cancer Before It Becomes Advanced:
As you now know how advancement of breast cancer makes it difficult to treat the cancer, you should also know how to stop the cancer being advanced. One of the best methods is to investigate for the common signs and symptoms associated with it (which are mentioned later). Nobody can know your body better than your own self. Try to figure out any changes you experience in your breast tissues.
You should thoroughly check your body looking in the mirror to investigate any deviation from the normal markings. Don’t ignore the symptoms mixing it with normal swelling. Consult your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. This is how identification of symptoms by yourself leads to the early diagnosis. In turn, prompt treatment increases the survival chances.
Common Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer:
The signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer mostly develop early. However, many women don’t take notice of these symptoms that delays the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Therefore, investigate for these symptoms in your body. Although men are at decreased risk for breast cancer, they can also get breast cancer. Hence, they should also look for these symptoms to ensure early diagnosis. The common signs and symptoms of breast cancer are as follows:
- Change in shape or size – compare both of the breasts (it is mostly unilateral)
- Change in color – redness or rash on the skin (also in or around the nipple)
- Change in skin texture – dimpling or puckering in the skin (it may resembles the skin of orange)
- Change in consistency – a lump or mass of abnormal growth (the area may feel thicker than the normal)
- Change in nipple – nipple looks different (in shape or color) or it may get inverted (seems like pulled in)
- Discharge from nipple – whitish liquid other than milk that comes out of nipple even without squeezing
- Constant pain in breast or armpit
- Swelling in the area of armpit or around collar bone
- An ulcer of the breast skin
- Eczema like changes in or around the nipple
These symptoms are not only associated with breast cancer. In fact, in 80% of cases, swelling is due to reasons other than cancer, like benign tumors or cysts. Generally, cancerous tumors are more irregular in texture. Also, they feel firm and solid. They are often painless. However, it is difficult for you to accurately differentiate the cancerous tumors from benign tumors or cysts. Benign tumors can turn into malignancy later in life. Therefore, any signs and symptoms should not be ignored. See your doctor in case you suspect anything unusual in your body.
Perform Self-Examination For Breast Cancer:
You should thoroughly examine your breasts for the identification of early symptoms of breast cancer. This can be done while taking shower, in front of a mirror and also while lying. Seek medical attention if you find any symptom of breast cancer.
- In Shower:
While being in shower, use pads of your finger to inspect breast tissues. Move your fingers in circular motions, starting from the outer margin and going in towards nipples. Check the entire breast and also the armpits. Inspect your breasts once every month. Consult your doctor if you feel any lump, thickening or hardening in the skin.
- In Front Of Mirror:
Stand in front of mirror putting your hands on your waist or by sides. Visually inspect your breasts to find any symptom of breast cancer if present. Look for change in the size, shape, color, texture or consistency of breast tissues and nipples. Then raise your arms overhead and see for the same changes. While looking in the mirror, inspect for any discharge from the nipples. This can be watery, milky, or yellowish fluid and can also be blood.
Next, place your hands on your hips and flex your trunk (bend slightly towards the mirror) with the elbows forward. Press your hands on the hips. This position will make you feel your chest muscles getting tighter. Check for any change in the breast tissues like dimpling and puckering.
- In Bed:
You can also examine your breast for the symptoms of breast cancer while lying in bed. Lie comfortably and let your breast become flat on your chest wall. Place a pillow beneath the shoulder of the same side of breast being examined. Move the arm of the same side beneath the head. With the use of fingers pads of the opposite hand, inspect the whole breast and armpits. You can either move your fingers in circular motions starting from the outside (margin of breast) to inside (towards nipple) or vice versa. You can also move your finger in vertical lines. That works better for most women. Gently press your breast against your chest to feel lumps in the deeper tissues. Use mild pressure for the breast tissues in the middle and firm pressure for the deeper tissues at the periphery of breasts. While pressing firmly, you will feel your ribcage. Make sure to inspect all the tissues in breast and the armpit area. Examine both the breasts one by one.
Screening For Breast Cancer:
Screenings are done to look for breast cancer before the symptoms appear. It is of great importance as normally by the time symptoms develop, cancer has already progressed to an advanced stage. You must know, by now, that advanced breast cancer is difficult to treat. Therefore, regular screening should be done to diagnose and ultimately treat breast cancer in its early stage. Women with high risk for breast cancer should talk to their doctor to initiate a screening program. However, going for a screening test doesn’t always mean you are going to have cancer. Screening are performed before the symptoms develop. Further tests are then done to confirm the diagnosis.
The most common method of screening for breast cancer is a mammogram. It takes the X-ray of breast tissues. Abnormal result on a mammogram can be a sign of breast cancer. Mammograms are best way to diagnose breast cancer early. Women, age 40 and above should start getting screened with mammograms annually, especially if they have a family history.
- Breast MRI:
Another method of screening is breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It uses magnets and resonance to create the image of breast tissues. For screening, it is used along with mammogram to diagnose women who are at high risk for breast cancer.
It is important to self-diagnose breast cancer before it advances to the final stage. The early stage of breast cancer is the most treatable with successful intervention. With the progression of disease, it gets difficult to eliminate the cancer completely.
To early diagnose breast cancer, women should undergo regular screenings from a medical doctor. Screening is done before the symptoms develop. The other way to diagnose cancer earlier is to thoroughly examine your body for the symptoms commonly associated with breast cancer.