It’s October – the time of the year when you see autumn leaves, Halloween treats, and the color pink!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is diagnosed in an estimated 207,090 women and 1,970 men in the United States each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is the most common cancer among women across all races and ethnicities.
Knowledge about breast cancer has come a long way, thanks to the ever-growing support of patients, survivors, loved ones, doctors, and comprehensive basic and clinical research.
At this point, many women know what to look for when performing breast exams on themselves: a lump in the breast. But, there are some more subtle changes and symptoms that women should be aware of when performing a monthly self exam. Awareness of these small changes may help lead to earlier detection and more successful treatment of the disease.
Particularly in the early stages of breast cancer, symptoms of the disease are not intense. However, the breast may look and feel different as the tumor grows.
Here are some breast cancer symptoms you should look for, in addition to a lump or thickening:
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening
- Change in the size or shape of your breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly, sore, or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that does not go away
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor to make an appointment for an examination. However, early detection is key in beating breast cancer. Even if you have none of these symptoms, follow screening guidelines.
Women at high risk of developing breast cancer may benefit from more intensive screening and should consider making an appointment with the Magee-Womens High-Risk Breast Cancer Program.
In addition to screening mammography, the following tests can be helpful in determining whether or not you have breast cancer:
- Digital mammography with computer-aided detection, including 3D mammography
- Minimally invasive breast biopsy (ultrasound or stereotactic guided)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Although there are many different types of breast cancers, most are classified by:
- Ductal carcinoma: The most common type of breast cancer, which begins in the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast.
- Lobular carcinoma: Begins in the lobules of the breast, the glands that make milk. It’s more often found in both breasts than other types of cancers.
In addition, breast cancer may be categorized based on estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER 2 (a protein found in excess on the surface of the cancer cell in about 20 percent of patients). Doctors use these and other criteria to help define optimal treatment. The vast majority of women in the United States who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a variety of therapeutic options and can live with no evidence of disease.
Learn more about breast cancer risks and treatment at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center website. And don’t forget to wear pink this month!