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Signs Of Breast Cancer


Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. It affects approximately 7% of the female population. In the 1990's, more than 1.5 million women will be diagnosed with the malignancy, and nearly 30% of them will die of the disease. Breast cancer may be fairly easily detected in early stages by careful and regular self-examination (palpation). Early detection is associated with a greater likelihood of cure.

The incidence of breast cancer begins to increase around the age of 30 and continues to rise throughout a woman's lifetime. A woman must be diligent about screening and alert toward any symptoms that may signal cancer. These symptoms include: a lump or nodule in the breast, dimpling or other changes in the skin, change in the shape or contour of the breast, discharge from the nipple, and nipple scaling. All of these signs may also occur in benign breast disorders, but they always require prompt medical attention.

Cysts

Cysts are the most common lumps found in the breast. They generally occur in women between the ages of 35 and 50. After menopause, cysts usually do not develop, except in rare cases or when a woman is receiving estrogen replacement therapy. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form when fluids accumulate in the breast ducts.

They can literally appear overnight and disappear just as quickly. The cysts generally are round, smooth, and movable and can get very large. They may increase in size toward the end of the menstrual period and can cause pain if they press on other tissues. Cysts that fail to disappear after menses must be drained with a needle and syringe.

Fibrocystic Breasts

Fibrocystic breasts are breasts that are lumpy and may be painful or tender. Practically all women have some lumpiness in their breasts by the time they have reached their thirties and forties and gone through several hundred menstrual cycles. In every cycle that passes uninterrupted by pregnancy, breast tissue expands and shrinks, leaving behind fibrous areas that may feel like lumps or nodules scattered throughout the breast.

Sometimes the breasts become tender in several places. In the premenstrual period the tenderness may become worse, and the number of lumps may increase because cysts tend to form at this time. In the past, these symptoms were known as fibrocystic disease, but many physicians object to the term, arguing that no disease is involved. Among other numerous names for the condition were mastopathy, mammary dysplasia, physiologic nodularity, and chronic cystic mastitis. At present it is generally referred to as fibrocystic change or fibrocystic condition.

Intraductual Papillomas

These are benign wart-like tumors that develop in the milkducts, usually beneath the areola. They generally are less than a dime in diameter, but occasionally may grow up to two inches. They most frequently develop in women who are between the age of 30 and 50. In about half of the cases, they produce a bloody discharge from the nipple, which is sometimes associated with pain. Treatment for the condition consists of surgically removing the entire duct. Papillomas may develop simultaneously in several ducts. This condition, called papillomatosis, is more common in younger women and may affect both breasts.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a painful inflammation of the breast caused by an infection or a hormonal imbalance. A wedge shaped red area develops on one breast with the point of the wedge on the nipple. The condition occurs because the breast lobule is not draining properly due to a blockage of the duct. Chronic cystic mastitis is a common condition characterized by benign cysts or lumps. Puerperal mastitis is an acute bacterial infection that may occur in nursing mothers. Women will often develop a temperature and feel sick. The infection can be cured with antibiotics.

Nipple Discharge

Secretions from the nipple are not unusual and can occur in any woman without relation to pregnancy, breast-feeding, or disease. Small amounts of mucous released from the nipple may evaporate almost immediately or form a crust that is removed while bathing. A milky discharge called galactorrhea can occur if the pituitary gland releases abnormal amounts of the hormone prolactin, which stimulates milk production in women who are breast-feeding.

Increased release in prolactin can be caused by thyroid disorders, birth control pills, brain tumors that affect the pituitary gland, and sedative tranquilizing drugs. Galactorrhea is often accompanied by menstrual irregularities, such as sparse menstrual flow or complete absence of menses. Women experiencing these symptoms should see their physician. Also, if the nipple discharge is bloody, watery, or straw colored, or contains pus, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Sclerosing Adenosis

Sclerosing adenosis is a condition in which certain cells of the breast tissue multiply in a disorderly manner and replace some of the surrounding connective tissue. The areas of occurrence are small and the tissue becomes hard and can sometimes be felt as a lump through the skin. The lump does not move freely inside the breast tissue.

Because of the hard tissue and the irregular shape of the lump, this condition is more likely to be mistaken for cancer than any other lump in the breast. In order to accurately diagnose the condition, a biopsy must be performed. Sclerosing adenosis usually affects only one breast and occurs in menstruating women, but it does not interfere with breast-feeding.

Ginseng May Help Fight Breast Cancer

The traditional Chinese herb ginseng may improve the chances of survival for breast cancer patients and their quality of life, a medical study in China has suggested. The findings of the study, conducted by researchers at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Centre in the United States, were published in last month's edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study looked at 1,455 breast cancer patients from Shanghai, who were diagnosed with the disease between 1996 and 1998. All the patients received at least one type of standard treatment for cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Information about the use of ginseng by these patients was collected when they enrolled in the study and in follow-up interviews.

The investigators found that individuals who used ginseng regularly before their cancer diagnosis had a reduced risk of death. The study did not examine the effect of taking ginseng after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Use of the herb was also associated with an average increase of three points on the 74-point General Quality of Life Inventory.

The inventory is a questionnaire for patients and measures both physical and emotional impact of disease. "Ginseng use is believed to maintain natural energy, increase physical and psychomotor performance, improve mood and cognitive function and this promotes quality of life or well-being," the study's authors said.

 

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