Breast Cancer in Women
What is breast cancer? Breast cancer starts in the tissue or ducts of the breast. Breast cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lung, and brain.
What increases my risk for breast cancer?
- First monthly period before age 11, or continuing after age 54
- First pregnancy after the age of 40
- Long-term use of hormonal birth control or female hormones
- Not breastfeeding, or breastfeeding for only a short time
- Family history of breast cancer
- Large amounts of high-fat foods
- Overweight or obesity, or lack of physical activity
- Heavy alcohol use
- Smoking cigarettes
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
- Swelling or a lump in your breast
- Bleeding or clear discharge from your nipple
- Aching or soreness of your breast
- Skin that is dimpled like an orange peel
- Nipple that looks like it has been pushed in
- Swollen lymph nodes under your arm
How is breast cancer diagnosed? Your healthcare provider will feel for lumps in your breast. You will also have a mammogram. This is an x-ray of your breasts, and can help find lumps that are too small to feel during a breast exam. You may need the following tests:
An ultrasound or MRI may show cysts (fluid-filled pockets) or tumors in your breast. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tumors show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
A biopsy is a procedure used to remove part or all of the tumor. The tissue is tested for cancer, the type of cancer it is, and if it responds to hormones.
How is breast cancer treated?
Hormone medicine may be used if the cancer is sensitive to hormones.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-ray beams to kill cancer cells.
Chemotherapy medicines are used to kill cancer cells. You may receive one medicine or a combination of medicines.
Targeted therapy is medicine that finds markers on some cancer cells and kills the cells.
Surgery may be used to remove the tumor.
What can I do to manage my breast cancer?
Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.
Exercise as directed. Ask your oncologist about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise may help to decrease the side effects of treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, and weakness. It may also help improve your mood. Stop exercising if you feel pain in your chest, have trouble breathing, or feel dizzy. Do not exercise if you have a fever or if you had anticancer medicines through an IV in the last 24 hours.
Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for new or returning cancer. Smoking can also delay healing after treatment. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Your oncologist may tell you to limit or not drink alcohol. Alcohol may increase the risk that your breast cancer will come back. Limit alcohol to 1 drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
Call 911 for any of the following:
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
- You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough.
- You suddenly feel lightheaded or short of breath.
- You cough up blood.
When should I contact my oncologist?
- You have a fever.
- You are vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.
- You are depressed or feel that you cannot cope with your illness.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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