How To Know It’s Breast Cancer? Warning Signs, Diagnosis & Treatment


Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava


Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women and is associated with sharp pain and a lump in the breast. Although it may not affect in the early ages, the risk increases with increasing age.


Warning signs & early symptoms of breast cancer


Being aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can help in the early diagnosis of the disease and seek early medical attention for the cure. Although the signs may not be common in every woman, here are some of the most frequently occurring symptoms:


  • A visible painless lump near the breast or underarm (armpit)
  • A change in the size of the breast
  • Thickening and swelling of any part of the breast
  • Irritation and dimpling of breast skin
  • Breast pain that does not go away after the periods
  • A clear red, brown, or yellow discharge from the nipples
  • Unexplained skin irritation and redness on the breast
  • Inward turning or retraction of the nipple
  • Enlargement of one breast and tenderness
  • Peeling of the breast skin
  • Poor appetite and unintentional weight loss
  • Visible veins on the breast
  • A warm area in the breast
  • Pain in the breast
  • Dimpled nipple
  • The breast may feel hard and cause pain when touched


In some cases, even the visible signs may not cause the disease, but taking that call might become a reasonable threat to life. Doctors advise getting diagnosed at the earliest upon noticing the symptoms to reduce the related risk factors.


Types of breast cancer


Breast cancer is of two types:

  • Invasive breast cancer 
  • Non-invasive breast cancer


Invasive breast cancer

Breast cancer that has spread to other organs is known as invasive breast cancer. By breaking through the breast tissue and entering the blood, cancer has spread from its initial site to other regions of the body, such as breast tissue, lymph nodes, or any other part of the body. The stages of invasive breast cancer include Stages 1, 2, 3, and 4.

There are two most common types of invasive breast cancer:


  • Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)


IDC is the most prevalent form of breast cancer, accounting for 70% to 80% of all occurrences. Invasive ductal carcinoma is a type of cancer that starts in the milk duct (the tube in the breast that transports milk to the nipple) and spreads throughout the body after mingling with the blood.


  • Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): Invasive lobular carcinoma is the second most common type of breast cancer found in roughly 5% to 10% of cases of all breast cancer. ILC originates in the lobules (where breast milk is made) and like IDC it may also mix with the bloodstream and affect other organs in the body.


  • Non-invasive breast cancer: This type of breast cancer remains in one particular location of the breast and does not affect any other organ present in the body. Non-invasive cancer is determined as stage 0.



Non-invasive breast cancer

This type of breast cancer remains in one particular location of the breast and does not affect any other organ present in the body. Non-invasive cancer is determined as stage 0.

There are two types of non-invasive breast cancer:


  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): DCIS occurs in the milk duct and does not spread to other parts of the body in its initial stage. However, if the diagnosis and treatment are delayed, it can break the duct wall and mix into the bloodstream causing damage to other parts of the body.


  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): An LCIS is not technically cancer. It grows inside the breast lobules and remains there without affecting any other body organ. However, if the LCIS is present in the breast lobule for a long period of time, it increases the risk of invasive cancer and thus it is important to get diagnosed upon noticing any symptom of breast cancer.


Diagnosis of breast cancer:

Before diagnosing the symptoms of breast cancer, the doctor will ask for the medical history and ongoing medications. They may also want to know if any other women of the family have ever been affected by the disease because breast cancer can also occur due to genetic factors. 


  • Physical examination: The doctor examines the skin of the breast for any lump, nipple discharge, or retraction. They also check for any other visible symptoms of breast cancer.


  • Mammogram: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that helps in determining the benign mass (non-cancerous tumors) and malignant mass (cancerous tumors) in the breast tissues.


  • Ultrasound: Ultrasonography is a medical imaging technique in which sound waves higher than the upper audible limit of humans are used to diagnose the breast. It helps in producing the image of the breast tissues.


  • Biopsy: A biopsy involves surgically removing a small amount of tissue from the breast for testing and diagnosis.


  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): In an MRI scan, strong magnetic and radio waves are used to produce detailed images of the breast.


  • Blood test: The doctor may conduct a blood test to monitor cancer cells in the body. These blood tests include:


    • CA 15.3: Used to examine cancer in the breast and the ovaries
    • TRU-QUANT and CA 27.29: Implies that the cancer cells are present in the breast
    • CA125: May signal breast cancer recurrence
    • CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen): A marker that the cancer cell has mixed with the bloodstream and has spread from the breast to other body parts
    • Circulating tumor cells: Determines that the cancer cells have broken and mixed with the bloodstream. Identification of high circulating tumor cells implies that the cancer is growing.


Breast cancer treatment

The type of breast cancer treatment may vary depending upon the stage of cancer. 


  • Lumpectomy: In this treatment, the doctor removes the tumor while leaving your breast intact.


  • Mastectomy: While conducting this treatment for breast cancer, the doctor surgically removes the breast tissue which hosts the cancer cells.


  • Chemotherapy: It is the most common cancer treatment and involves using drugs to eliminate cancer cells from the body.


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