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5 Signs of Breast Cancer...okay, maybe 6

San Antonio breast cancer surgeon discusses signs...

· breast cancer,Breast Surgeon,Cancer Awareness

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I will discuss 5 signs that can possibly mean breast cancer.  I want you (this includes you, gentlemen, because men can get breast cancer too) to see your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below. 

  • A hard, painless lump
  • Bloody or greenish discharge from the nipple
  • Nipple inversion that is new (when the nipple turns inward)
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Dimpling of the breast skin or irritation that won’t go away

The 6th sign can be breast pain, but it usually isn’t.  Breast pain is one of the most common reasons that I see patients, because they assume it means they have breast cancer.  It is certainly possible, but not likely.  Most women get breast pain because they get breast pain. Breast pain most commonly occurs with the menstrual cycle; this is known as cyclical breast pain, and will usually go away once a woman’s period ends.  Other women will get breast pain that may only be on one side, it may be after they have gone through menopause, and it may be severe.  We don’t know what causes this type of breast pain, but it will typically go away.  I suggest that women take anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, or they might consider taking vitamin E, which has been shown in small studies to relieve breast pain when taken daily.  Breast pain is a good motivator for women to get their mammograms done, but there is almost no association between pain and cancer.  One big exception is in women who have very large tumors that are taking over their breasts--these women have an obvious, painful cancer but in this case the cancerous lump can be felt by both patient and doctor.

Regarding the above signs: a hard, painless lump should prompt an immediate visit to your doctor and a mammogram and ultrasound to figure out what this is.  Fluid-filled cysts can feel rock-hard, too, but are rarely cancer, so just because you feel lump doesn’t automatically mean cancer. Bloody or greenish discharge from the nipple can indicate a papilloma, which is a tiny nodule in a milk duct.  If a papilloma is diagnosed, then a biopsy is indicated.  However, many papillomas are non-cancerous.  Nipple inversion that is new may indicate a lump in the tissue that is growing and is pulling the nipple towards the lump--mammogram is mandatory.  Redness or scaliness around the nipple can indicate Paget’s disease of the nipple, which is technically cancer, and can be associated with a cancerous lump that is found on mammogram.  Skin dimpling and irritation of the skin might indicate a lump pulling on the skin, or inflammatory breast cancer.  Often the difference between inflammatory breast cancer and a skin infection of the breast is lack of pain.  Infection usually hurts, cancer usually doesn’t. 

Again, if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor. They will recommend a mammogram, which is easy, requires only a minimal amount of radiation exposure and can detect cancers so small they can’t be felt yet on physical exam.  In honor of breast cancer awareness month, schedule your mammogram today, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

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