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Preventing and Treating Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Mammograms, and Surgical Options

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to remember that early detection of breast cancer saves lives. Since 1990 mammograms have helped reduce the breast cancer mortality rate by 40%. The survival rate for stage one breast cancer is 100%. 

This is an excellent time to begin monthly self-exams if you aren’t already in the habit, and to be sure you have your annual mammogram scheduled.

The Importance of Mammograms
The most sensitive ways to screen for breast cancer are regular high-quality screening mammograms and clinical breast exams, according to the National Cancer Institute. When breast cancer is detected early, treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread. Studies show that screening mammography can help reduce deaths from breast cancer among women at average risk of breast cancer between ages 40 and 74 years, with the evidence of benefit being strongest for women ages 50 to 69 years.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women at average risk of breast cancer (which describes most women) begin having yearly mammograms at age 45. Starting at age 55, most women can schedule mammograms every other year. 

Women at high risk (because of family history, a breast condition, or other reason) should start screenings at a younger age and schedule them more often. And all women, no matter their age, should let their doctor know about any changes to their breasts, such as those listed below.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
When it comes to early detection of breast cancer, it’s important for women to be aware of changes in their breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Therefore, it’s important to know how your breasts normally look and feel so you can recognize changes.

According to the American Cancer Society:

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. They can even be painful. For this reason, it’s important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by an experienced healthcare professional.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (because sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there)

Any of these symptoms can be caused by something other than breast cancer. Nevertheless, if you have any of them, report them to your doctor or other healthcare professional to determine the cause and rule out breast cancer.

Treatment
If breast cancer is diagnosed and requires surgical treatment, options include a lumpectomy or mastectomy. 

In a lumpectomy, also known as a partial mastectomy, a surgeon removes the part of the breast containing cancer, as well as some surrounding tissues and lymph nodes. The rest of the breast remains intact. This option is often considered if the cancer is in the early stages. In a mastectomy, the surgeon removes the entire breast, and may include the nipple and areola. A mastectomy usually requires at least one night’s stay in the hospital, and is sometimes followed by radiation therapy. 

The patient and her surgeon determine which surgery is best given the location and stage of the cancer and the potential look and feel of the breast after surgery. 

Read detailed information about breast procedures.

MSA General Surgeons are passionate about providing the best care to get you back to the life you love. Contact us or call 231-739-9461 for more information.

Sources:
MSA Breast Cancer Surgery
American Cancer Society