Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when it first develops, breast cancer may cause no symptoms at all. But as the cancer grows, it can cause these changes:
Note: Any changes in the breast should be reported to a doctor without delay. Symptoms can be caused by cancer or by a number of less serious conditions. Early diagnosis is especially important for breast cancer because the disease responds best to treatment before it has spread. The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the better a woman's chance for complete recovery.
The diagnosis may be established by a careful physical examination, mammography, ultrasonography and, if needed, a biopsy.
The doctor will examine the breasts using visual inspection and palpation. Visual inspection looks for changes in breast contour, new dimpling, nipple inversion, discharge, moles, puckering or persistent sores. Palpation is using the pads of the fingers to press down and feel the tissue around the breasts for any unusual lumps. Benign (non-cancerous) lumps often feel different from cancerous ones.
Mammography is an x-ray of the breast that reveals any suspicious areas.
Ultrasonography uses high frequency sound waves that enter the breast and bounce back. The pattern of their echoes produce a picture called a sonogram that detects whether the breast lump is solid (possibly cancerous) or filled with fluid (non-cancerous).
If further tests are needed, the doctor will recommend a biopsy.
There are three ways to do breast biopsies: Fine Needle Aspiration, Large Core Breast Biopsy and Srgical Bopsy.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) uses a fine needle, inserted into the breast tissue, to withdraw cells from the suspicious area.
Large Core Breast Biopsy uses a large core needle in a spring-loaded device that removes "cores" or plugs of tissue from the suspicious area.
Surgical Bopsy is the surgical removal of part or all of the lump or suspicious area.
If breast cancer is diagnosed, the doctor will then determine the stage (phase or progression) of the cancer. The following staging system is used:
Carcinoma in Stu is very early breast cancer. Cancer is present only in the immediate area in which it developed.
Stage I means the tumor is no larger than 2 centimeters (cm)(about 1 inch) and has not spread outside the breast.
Stage II means the tumor is from 2 to 5 cm (roughly 2 inches) and/or has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
Stage III means the cancer is larger than 5 cm (about 2 inches) involves the underarm lymph nodes to a greater extent, and/or has spread to other lymph nodes or other tissues near the breast.
Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other organs of the body (metastatic cancer), most often the lungs, bones, liver, or brain.