Symptoms and Signs of Breast Cancer

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 8/30/2021

Doctor's Notes on Breast Cancer

Breast cancer occurs when the cells of the breast start to grow abnormally. Breast cancer occurs in both men and women. The breasts are made of fat, glands, and connective (fibrous) tissue. The breast has several lobes, which split into lobules that end in the milk glands. Tiny ducts run from the many tiny glands, connect together, and end in the nipple. Ductal cancer that arises in the ducts accounts for 80% of breast cancers. Lobular cancer develops in the lobules and accounts for approximately 10%-15% of breast cancers.

Early stage breast cancer usually doesn’t cause any symptoms though sometimes it’s possible to feel a lump in the breast. Pain is uncommon. Breast cancer may be discovered before symptoms appear by finding an abnormality on mammography or feeling a breast lump. Other symptoms of breast cancer may include

  • breast discharge,
  • nipple inversion, or
  • changes in the skin overlying the breast (including redness, changes in texture, and puckering). 

What Is the Treatment for Breast Cancer?

See your doctor if you find a breast lump or mass on breast self-examination. Not all lumps are cancerous. In fact, most are benign (noncancerous). Your doctor may order diagnostic tests for the lump including:

If the lump is found to be benign it may not need treatment, though some are surgically removed. If the lump is found to be malignant (cancer) you may be referred to a breast specialist. 

Treatment for breast cancer depends on the extent of the tumor and may involve one or more of the following:

The prognosis for breast cancer depends on if the cancer is metastatic (spread to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, bones, or brain). The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the cancer is found. The 5-year survival rates for different breast cancer types are as follows:

  • The average 5-year survival rate for women with non-metastatic invasive breast cancer is 90%
  • If the invasive breast cancer is located only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate of women with this disease is 99%
  • If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 86%
  • If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 28%
    • Survival rates are about 9% to 10% lower in African-American women compared to white women

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REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.