Don’t let your patient become a statistic—understanding the complex nature of breast cancer can allow you to intervene on a patient’s behalf. We know that the chance of a woman between 30 and 34 years of age developing breast cancer over the course of a year is less than 1%. Even so, when a woman is diagnosed at a younger age (generally under 40), the prognosis is usually more dire. Be vigilant of the following warning signs your patient might need a mammogram.
1. Lump in the breast
You should biopsy any painless, hard lumps located in or near the breast tissue. Soft, rounded lumps are less likely to be cancerous, but every lump should be tested and treated with preventative measures. The process for removal varies depending on the size of the lump, but it nearly always begins with a mammogram and a biopsy performed on a breast biopsy table.
Innocuous types of lumps common in breast tissue include fibroadenomas and cysts. Fibroadenomas are rubbery and hard, and they move about freely in the breast tissue. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are small and moveable, and they’re usually left untreated unless they cause discomfort.
2. Discharge from the nipples
In rare cases, discharge may be a symptom of cancer. However, it’s more often a symptom of benign conditions such as breast infections; a precursor to thyroid disease; or a side effect of certain medications. Generally, unless a woman is pregnant, there should be no discharge from the areolas, so you should carefully examine any sort of discharge.
3. Changes to skin texture
Dry, scaly skin around the nipples could indicate a very rare form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC. This cancer forms and spreads quickly, and it’s sometimes identifiable by skin irritation and rashes.
4. Lymph tissue irregularity
Your patient’s lymph nodes may be affected if cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue. If this is the case, the cancer would be classified as Stage III. Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit region are a classic sign of cancer, but you should test the nodes before making that conclusion.
5. Changes in breast size
If your patient’s breast size has changed quickly over a short period of time, her milk ducts may just be clogged or swollen. However, if these changes aren’t associated with hormonal changes, this could be a sign of invasive breast cancer.