Breast Cancer: Symptoms and Treatment

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops from breast tissue. Signs of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in breast shape, dimpling of the skin, fluid coming from the nipple, or a red scaly patch of skin. In those with distant spread of the disease, there may be bone pain, swollen lymph nodes, shortness of breath, or yellow skin. Breast cancer usually starts off in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. A malignant tumor can spread to other parts of the body.
In breast cancer survivors, non-hormonal birth control methods should be used as first-line options. Progestogen based methods such as Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DMPA), IUD with progestogen or progestogen only pills have a poorly investigated but possible increased risk of cancer recurrence, but may be used if positive effects outweigh this possible risk.


The symptoms of breast cancer include:

  •  Lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle.
  • A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea.
  • A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast.
  • A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple.
  • A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed).
  • Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple.
  • A change in shape or position of the nipple
  • An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.
  • A marble-like hardened area under the skin.

These are the symptoms of Breast Cancer.


Breast cancer has two types of treatments. They are:

  • Local
  • Systemic

Local Treatment:

Local Treatment is used to remove, destroy or control the cancer cells in a specific area, such as the breast. They include:
1. Surgery, either mastectomy or ’conservative surgery’, which includes lumpectomy (wide local excision) only the lump is removed, and quadrant ectomy, where a larger part of the breast is removed – with sentinel lymph node removal.
2. Radiotherapy

Systemic Treatment:

Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. They include:

1. Chemotherapy which uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Side effects can include nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flushes, fatigue and temporarily lowered blood counts.

2. Hormone therapy, including tamoxifen, and the aromatase inhibitors anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole. Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially estrogen, from promoting the growth of breast cancer cells that may remain after breast cancer surgery. Side effects can include hot flushes and vaginal dryness.

3. Biological therapy, for example, trastuzumab, works by using the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells. It targets breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2.

Systemic Treatment therapy can be given after local treatment (adjuvant therapy) or before (neoadjuvant therapy). Adjuvant therapy is used after local treatments to kill any cancer cells that remain anywhere in the body.

A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on her needs. Discuss with your doctor all the risks and benefits of each option and how they relate to your own lifestyle.

Contributor: Redwana Antu

BRAC University

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