And yet, they also can bring devastating news to thousands of women every year when they hear the words, “You have breast cancer.”

Breast cancer is the leading cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Great strides have been made in diagnosis and treatment in the past two decades. With the adoption of screening mammography and increased public awareness, many women now find breast cancer in its earliest stages, often before it becomes invasive. Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all.

But as the cancer grows, it can cause changes that women should watch for:

  • A solid or irregular lump in the breast
  • Any changes in texture of the skin or breast tissue
  • Changes in the size of the breast
  • Dimpling of skin around the breast
  • Painless thickening in the breast
  • Nipple retraction or deviation
  • Asymmetry of the breast (not proportional)
  • Scaling of skin on nipple or areola
  • Thickened skin or prominent pores with swelling and redness of the breast
  • Bloody or abnormal discharge from nipple
  • Ulceration of the breast

See your physician immediately if you have any of these symptoms. Most often, they are not cancer, but it is important to check with your physician so any problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

If diagnosed with breast cancer, women have numerous options for the surgical management of breast cancer — from breast-conserving surgery to skin- and occasionally nipple-sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

“We are dedicated to helping our patients make informed decisions,” said Amy Quillo, UofL Physicians surgical oncologist. “We understand that there can be tremendous confusion and anxiety among newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. With multiple treatment options available, it can be difficult to navigate through a confusing maze of specialists and advice. Working with our colleagues in medical and radiation oncology at the Brown Cancer Center, we focus on the needs of each patient and simplify the process.”

Breast Cancer Risks:

  • Being older than 50
  • Having never given birth or having first child after 30
  • Having a menstrual period that began early or ended late in life
  • Diagnosis of lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), which refers to abnormal cells in the lining of a lobule. These abnormal cells are a sign that a woman has an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This risk of cancer is increased for both breasts.
  • A diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia
  • Having a female relative with breast cancer, especially before menopause
  • Previous history of cancer

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health articles from the “UofL Physicians-Insider” newsletter. Read the entire October Issue (opens as a PDF document).