Early indicators include a lump in the breast or an abnormality of the nipple.
Breast cancer remains a widespread concern for many women, accounting for nearly one-third of all female cancer diagnoses last year, according to BreastCancer.org. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1,000 Virginia women died of the disease in 2017.
Finding a lump in the breast or an abnormality of the nipple might be an early clue that there might be a cancer growing, but Aloysius Pereira, a medical oncologist with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, says that many patients may report no symptoms when a diagnosis is made following a mammogram. And, perhaps counterintuitively, pain in the breast is not typically considered a symptom of breast cancer.
“Often if you have a painful breast, it’s really something else—it’s an infection or inflammation or a hormonal effect,” he says.
Treatment of breast cancer is typically tailored to the individual, although common responses may include some combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone treatments, immunotherapy and targeted therapies. The FDA recently approved a pill, Nerlynx, which is a drug that can be used after initial treatment for certain forms of early-stage cancer to help reduce the risk of recurrence.
Factors such as age, whether a woman has gone through menopause, the size of the tumor and the number of lymph nodes involved all play a role in designing a course of treatment.
“It’s very important for women to know what their own cancer is, because they’ll have friends and family members who had a different stage or a different kind of breast cancer, and somebody else might get a very different treatment than what you are being prescribed,” says Pereira.