Written by Chantel DaCosta

What Is Breast Cancer?

close up of african woman in t-shirt with breast cancer awareness ribbon over white background

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women in the Caribbean. Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumour is malignant or cancerous if the cells can grow into the surrounding tissues or spread to other areas of the body.

While this cancer mostly affects women, men can get breast cancer as well.

The Symptoms:

Most cases of breast cancer have no symptoms until it is discovered on a mammogram. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. These masses that are more likely to be cancerous are painless, hard, and immobile with irregular edges.

But some breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded — and even painful.

While the following signs and symptoms can be caused by conditions other than breast cancer, please contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast, or in the underarm area
  • Swelling of all or part of a breast
  • Skin irritation on or around the breast
  • Puckering in the skin of the breast, or dimpling that looks like the skin of an orange
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Redness or thickening of the nipple, areola, or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge that is not milk

Some breast cancers spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone and cause a lump or swelling in those areas before a tumour in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.

A Note on Breast Density

Regular mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early. Some women have denser breast tissue than others. Breasts will be seen as dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and not much fat in the breast.

Breast density is seen only on mammograms. Breast is made of dense glandular and fibrous tissue. This can make it hard to see small tumours in or around the dense tissue. When this occurs, your doctor may request both a mammogram along with an MRI to check for cancerous mass.

For more information on breast cancer risk factors and whether you’re in a high-risk group for breast cancer, please call your local cancer society.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Everyday Health, American Cancer Society, International Journal for Equity in Health

Yello Media goes pink this October in support of breast cancer awareness. This is part one in the Yello Media Breast Cancer Awareness series, next week we will discuss tests and procedures to diagnose breast cancer.

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