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Breast Cancer Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Risk Factors

  • Symptoms: Breast cancer doesn’t usually present symptoms in its early stages. However, in later stages, you may notice a lump in your breast or underarm; swelling in your underarm; pain or tenderness in your breast; a flattening or indentation of your breast; a change in size, contour, texture, or temperature of your breast; a change in your nipple; or an abnormal discharge from your nipple.
  • Diagnosis: You can help be a part of your own diagnosis by performing breast self-examinations and getting mammograms as recommended by your doctor. During a breast self-exam, look for dimpling or changes in shape or symmetry and also feel for lumps. A mammogram, or an X-ray of your breast, can identify lumps before they can even be felt. Since most lumps are benign and not cancerous, your doctor may perform an ultrasound or a needle biopsy to test the breast tissue for cancer cells. If a lump is found to be malignant, your doctor will analyze your cancer cells to find out what treatments will work best for you.
  • Treatment: The treatments for breast cancer depend on the size and location of the tumor in your breast and the stage and extent of the disease. Treatment options may include surgery (mastectomy or lumpectomy), brachytherapy, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biologic therapy.
  • Risk Factors: Breast cancer does have some risk factors; however, most women who develop breast cancer do not have any risk factors. Risk factors can include getting older; breast cancer in an immediate family member; presence of an inherited breast cancer gene; previous abnormal breast biopsy; childbirth at a later age; early menstruation; late menopause; excessive radiation; overweight; other cancers present in the family; alcohol consumption; and hormone replacement therapy. Some myths persist about possible risk factors, and the following are not risk factors for breast cancer: using antiperspirants/deodorants, wearing underwire bras, having an abortion, experiencing a miscarriage, or having breast implants. Discuss any concerns you have about any risk factors with your doctor.
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