Finding a lump in your breast can be a frightening experience, and every year thousands of women consult their physicians with concerns about abnormal breast appearance, shape, or discharge. Fortunately, most breast lumps do not pose serious medical problems. In fact, eight out of 10 lumps turn out to be non-cancerous, or benign. In all cases, however, it is crucial that you see your physician as soon as possible to have the lump examined. The combination of regular self-examinations and sophisticated medical technology all aid in the early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer.
The first step in locating a lump is through a monthly self-examination. However, if the lump is small, you may not be able to detect it on your own. That is why it is so important to have regular mammograms, or chest x-rays, to check for any breast lumps or abnormalities.
There are a number of tests your doctor may conduct to help determine your risk of breast cancer, including a discussion of your medical and family histories, a physical examination, a mammogram, an ultrasound (which allows your doctor to distinguish between solid lumps and fluid-filled cysts), and a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing a sample of breast tissue to examine, usually under a microscope, for the presence of cancer.
Sometimes, cancer can spread to the body’s lymphatic system, which is a major component of the immune system and aids in the removal of excess fluid and the production of immune cells. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to which cancer is likely to spread. In a sentinel lymph node biopsy, this lymph node is removed and examined under a microscope. This procedure allows your physician to look for the presence of cancer cells and determine its stage.
If a lump is benign, it is non-cancerous. Although this is always wonderful news, you should still be sure to schedule regular follow-up appointments and conduct monthly self-examinations.
If a lump is malignant, it is cancerous, and you will need to undergo treatment to eradicate all traces of the cancer. This reality may be difficult to face, and it may take you some time to fully come to terms with your diagnosis. It is important to surround yourself with family and friends during this time, and to express any questions and concerns you have to your physician. Remember: breast cancer is treatable, especially if it is caught early, and there is a strong coalition of breast cancer survivors across the country to offer you support.
Breast cancer can be treated in a number of ways, with more effective treatment options available today than ever before. The type of treatment you choose will depend on a number of factors, many of them personal. In particular, the choice between a lumpectomy (the removal of a lump and some breast tissue) and a mastectomy (the total removal of the breast) can be very emotionally draining. It is important that you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each before making your decision.
A lumpectomy is a two-stage process that preserves your breast while removing a cancerous lump as well as some of the healthy tissue surrounding it. In most cases, your surgeon will recommend radiation therapy following a lumpectomy to eradicate any remaining cancer cells in your breast or lymph nodes. Other forms of therapy your doctor may recommend include chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.
There are five types of mastectomy surgeries. A modified radical mastectomy is a less-extensive version of the radical mastectomy, which was once the standard treatment for women with breast cancer. Whereas a radical mastectomy removes the breast, chest muscle, lymph nodes, and some additional fat and skin, a modified radical mastectomy does not remove the chest muscle. This not only preserves your arm strength and shortens your recovery time, it also allows you the choice of undergoing breast reconstruction.
Other forms of mastectomy include a simple mastectomy, which leaves the auxiliary lymph nodes intact, a skin-sparing mastectomy, which minimizes scarring and allows for quicker breast reconstruction, and a subcutaneous (nipple-sparing) mastectomy, which leaves the skin, nipple, and areola intact. The drawbacks of a mastectomy are primarily psychological, as losing one’s breast can be very traumatic and provide a constant reminder of the experience. In return, however, a mastectomy serves as an extremely effective treatment.
Your surgeon may also recommend chemotherapy or hormonal therapy following surgery, depending on your type of cancer.