Some forms of breast cancer in the initial stages cause no symptoms, so attending regular screenings is critical. As with other forms of cancer, when a doctor detects the disease early, a person’s outlook is more favorable.
The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass within the breast, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). People should familiarize themselves with the typical look and feel of their breasts, so they can detect any changes early.
Breast cancer can occur in males and females but the disease is much less common in males due to differences in breast tissue.
Below we discuss some early indications for female and male breast cancer. We define the different types and treatment options, too. Finally, they are looking into some benign conditions for breast cancer that people can overlook.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new mass or lump in breast tissue.
These lumps are usually hard, irregular in shape and painless, the ACS reports. Some tumors can be soft, round, and tender to the touch, however.
Subsequent breast changes may be breast cancer symptoms:
- full or partial swelling
- thickening of part of a breast
- a change in the size or shape of a breast
- irritation of the skin
- dimpled skin
- red, flaky skin on the breast or nipple
- breast or nipple pain
- pulling in of the nipple
- nipple discharge
- swollen lymph nodes
Many of these shifts can be attributed to other health issues as well.
If a person finds any changes in the breast tissue, however, they should see a doctor as soon as possible. Cancer as a possible cause is necessary to rule out.
Symptoms for specific types of cancer
That form of breast cancer occurs in a different part of the breast and can affect different types of tissue.
Since many breast cancers do not cause symptoms, it is recommended that people receive daily screening.
This can help identify the illness in its early stages. Below, we outline the types of breast cancer and their symptoms.
Common types of breast cancer
Lobular carcinoma in situ
Lobular in situ carcinoma refers to a region of abnormal cells that is restricted to breast milk-producing glands in females.
Because these cells do not spread to surrounding tissues, experts do not regard lobular in situ carcinoma as a “true” cancer. It can however increase the likelihood of developing other types of breast cancer.
This condition causes rare symptoms. In some instances, tiny white calcium specs called microcalcifications appear on a routine mammogram.
Invasive lobular carcinoma
It occurs in the lobules of the breast— glands which may produce milk — and invades surrounding breast tissue.
Invasive lobular carcinoma may not be causing symptoms in the early stages. Or, somebody might experience:
- thickening or hardening of breast tissue, rather than a distinct lump
- an area of fullness or swelling in the breast
- a change in the texture of the breast’s skin
- the nipple turning inward
Ductal carcinoma in situ
In situ ductal carcinoma refers to an region of abnormal cells restricted to one of the milk ducts in the breast.
When a person is diagnosed with this, it means the cells have not invaded surrounding breast tissue. Nevertheless, having ductal in situ carcinoma will increase the risk of later developing an invasive breast cancer.
This disorder does not generally cause symptoms. A person may rarely notice a lump in the breast, or a discharge from the nipple.
Invasive ductal carcinoma
This is the most common type of breast cancer, comprising about 80 per cent of cases.
Invasive canal carcinoma starts in the milk ducts of the breast and invades the surrounding tissue of the breast. The cancer will spread over time to neighboring lymph nodes and to other tissues.
Invasive ductal carcinoma may not be causing symptoms in its early stages. For some women a fresh lump or mass inside the breast is the first hint.
People suffering from this type of cancer may also experience:
- swelling of all or part of the breast
- pain in the breast or nipple
- irritation or dimpling of the breast’s skin
- redness, scaling, or thickening of the nipple or skin
- nipple discharge
- the nipple turning inward
- a lump in the underarm area
Less common breast cancers
Some less common types of breast cancer include:
Triple-negative breast cancer: The name refers to cancer cells that do not contain receptors of estrogen or progesterone and generate a small amount of HER2. The cancer thus fails to respond to hormone therapy. Triple-negative carcinomas can be both lobular and ductal.
Inflammatory breast cancer: This occurs when cancer cells block lymph vessels inside the breast skin, causing the breast to swell.
Tumors of phyllodes: These form inside breast connective tissues. Some are cancerous, though most are benign.
Paget’s disease: The cancer begins in the breast ducts and spreads to the nipple.
Breast angiosarcoma: This type of cancer occurs in the blood or lymph vessels and can affect the tissue in the breast.
Breast cancer symptoms in males
Males have small amounts of tissue in the breast which do not mature during puberty. Cancer forms rarely in this tissue.
The ACS estimates that about 2,620 cases of breast cancer in men will be diagnosed by doctors in the US by 2020. In the same year about 520 men will die from the disease.
Males suffering from breast cancer can experience:
- a lump or swelling that is often painless
- nipple retraction
- discharge from a nipple
- dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast
- redness or scaling of the nipple or skin of the breast
When to see a doctor
The screening procedure typically begins with a breast exam. The doctor will search inside the tissue for lumps, and may also examine the lymph nodes.
The doctor will also inquire about the medical history of the individual, and whether breast cancer has a family history.
The health care provider may then order additional tests including:
- a mammogram
- a breast ultrasound
- a breast MRI
- a breast biopsy, in which they remove a small piece of tissue and send it to a lab for a closer examination
If there is breast cancer the doctor will describe the treatment options and next steps.
Treatment for breast cancer depends on a number of factors, including
- the type of cancer
- the stage of the cancer at the time of detection
- the person’s age
- the person’s overall health
Some of the most used therapies for breast cancer include:
- hormone therapy, which uses hormones to target cancer cells that have hormone receptors
- radiation therapy, which uses targeted high-dose radiation to destroy cancer cells
- chemotherapy, which uses specific drugs to kill cancer cells
- lumpectomy, which involves removing the tumor while leaving the breast intact
- mastectomy, which involves removing the tumor and part or all of the breast’s tissue
At each stage of treatment, the doctor will describe the various options and will work to determine the best course of action.
Benign breast conditions
Several benign conditions in the breast can cause symptoms similar to those in cancer. Some of those issues require treatment, while others are going away alone.
Though benign, these conditions may cause:
- discomfort or pain
- lumps to form
Some common benign breast conditions include:
- cysts: fluid-filled sacs that can form in many parts of the body
- mastitis: potentially painful swelling of the breast
- hyperplasia: an overgrowth of cells, particularly in the milk ducts or lobules
- sclerosing adenosis: small lumps that form in lobules
- intraductal papillomas: small lumps that form in milk ducts
- a fibroadenoma: a moveable lump that develops when an overgrowth of fibrous or glandular tissue forms around a lobule
- a radial scar: a core of connective tissue that can resemble breast cancer on a mammogram
- a fat necrosis: a lump that is typically caused by surgery, radiation, or injury to the breast
- phyllodes tumors: fast-growing but typically painless tumors that start in the connective tissue of the breast — some can be cancerous
If a person isn’t sure what causes any symptoms related to the breast, they should talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
As with most cancers, early detection and treatment of breast cancer leads to a better result.
A new lump is the most common sign of breast cancer but any changes in a breast’s shape or feeling can indicate a problem.
Females should be taking regular breast exams and letting a doctor know about any symptoms or changes related to the breast.
Survival rates can help people understand the chances of successful treatment. A survival rate of 5 years indicates the percentage of people who live 5 years after diagnosis.
According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate is 99 percent when a doctor diagnoses breast cancer before it has spread beyond the breast.
The 5-year survival rate is 86 percent when breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes beyond the breast. The same cancer survival rate that has spread to other organs is 27%.
However, those estimates are affected by many factors specific to each individual. A physician can provide more detailed information on a person’s perspective.