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The Need for Speed: Early Signs of Breast Cancer

The Need for Speed: Early Signs of Breast Cancer

Sep 15, 2021

Breast cancer symptoms are sneaky. Some people may notice a breast lump, while others won’t have any symptoms at all. Though symptoms vary from person to person, one thing is certain: The earlier breast cancer is detected and diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Here’s an overview of the different types of breast cancer and what steps you should take if you notice early warning signs. 

Defining Noninvasive Breast Cancer

Breast cancers fall into two categories: Noninvasive (in situ) and invasive (infiltrating). 

“Breast cancer usually starts in one of the two main areas of the breast—the lobules or the ducts,” said Nandini Kulkarni, M.D., Surgical Oncologist and Director of Inspira’s Breast Cancer Program. “If abnormal cells stay within the lobule or the duct, it’s noninvasive. If they invade the lobule or the duct, it’s invasive.” 

The most common noninvasive breast cancers are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), abnormal cells in the milk ducts, and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), abnormal cells in the milk glands. Noninvasive breast cancer may cause symptoms such as an abnormal breast lump or changes in breast appearance, but most often present with no symptoms at all.

Defining Types of Invasive Breast Cancer

Invasive breast cancer is an umbrella term that encompasses several types of breast cancers.

“Breast cancer spreads when cancer cells enter the bloodstream or lymph nodes and break into surrounding tissues, lymph nodes and potentially other organs such as the liver, lungs, brain or bones. We don’t know why these invasive breast cancers develop, but we do know that genetics, family history, age and lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption, being overweight and lack of physical activity increase your risk,” said Dr. Kulkarni.

Common invasive breast cancers include invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which spreads from the milk ducts, and invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which spreads from the milk glands. IDC and ILC present with characteristic breast cancer symptoms such as: 

  • An abnormal breast lump
  • Changes in breast shape, size or appearance
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes in nipple shape, size or appearance
  • Dimpled skin
  • Abnormal discharge from the nipple

Less common manifestations of invasive breast cancers include:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer: An aggressive form of breast cancer that can present like an inflamed breast. Symptoms include significant breast swelling, redness and thickening of breast skin, inverted nipple, tenderness and one breast feeling warmer or heavier.
  • Paget’s disease of the nipple: Cancer of the skin of the nipple. Symptoms include crusty or red appearance of the nipple and areola and discharge.
  • Triple-negative breast cancer: A form of breast cancer that lacks receptors (like estrogen, progesterone and HER2, a growth-promoting protein found in breast cells) typically found in breast cancer. 
  • Metastatic breast cancer: Also known as stage 4 breast cancer—the most advanced stage of breast cancer that spreads from the breast to other parts of the body. Symptoms vary depending on where the cancer spreads in the body. 

If you notice any of these early signs of breast cancer, don’t panic. Just be sure to take the appropriate steps.  Call your primary care provider or OB/GYN, and explain your concerns. Be sure to monitor your symptoms until you are able to see your provider, and go to your visit prepared with a list of questions, concerns and family history. 

The Importance of  Routine Mammograms

Currently, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends:

  • Women age 40 to 44 have the option to begin annual mammograms
  • Women age 45 to 54 are recommended to receive annual mammograms
  • Women age 55 and older may either switch to mammograms every 2 years or choose to continue yearly screenings

“Getting a mammogram may be uncomfortable, but it gives you the opportunity to catch early warning signs before they can be detected by hand,” said Dr. Kulkarni. “Just remember that the benefits of knowing the status of your health greatly outweigh the risks of delayed care.”

For more information on breast cancer screenings at Inspira, click here.

Schedule your routine mammograms per ACS guidance based on your age.

Topics: Cancer Care, Mammogram