What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
You may be able to feel it as a lump under the skin, or you may not realize it’s there until it’s found on an imaging test, such as a mammogram (breast x-ray). Modern mammograms can detect lumps long before you can feel them. Keep in mind that most lumps are not malignant (cancerous) or life-threatening, but it is important to rule out cancer any time you feel a lump in your breast or have an abnormal mammogram. Earlier detection leads to better outcomes.
See your doctor right away if you have:
- A lump or thickness in or near the breast or under the arm
- Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, especially if it’s only on one side
- Dimpling or puckering of the breast
- Nipple discharge (fluid) other than breast milk, especially bloody discharge
- Breast skin changes, like redness, flaking, thickening or pitting that looks similar to the skin of an orange
- A nipple that sinks in (becomes inverted), is red, thick or scaly
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
If a screening mammogram or other test indicates that you need further testing, you may need advanced imaging techniques, such as three-dimensional (3D) mammography, ultrasound or breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). These tests can help our specialists evaluate any changes in the breast that might be cancerous. Miami Cancer Institute has been designated a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology, and our breast imaging specialists have access to the most advanced techniques to help rule out cancer without more invasive testing. Most abnormalities turn out to be noncancerous.
If these tests cannot rule out breast cancer, you will probably need a breast biopsy. A biopsy can also help determine the type and stage of the cancer, and how best to treat it. If you need a biopsy, we’ll make sure you know how to prepare and what to expect. Most biopsies today are quick and nearly painless. Our doctors will talk to you about what type of biopsy you need and why it is best in your case.
The types of breast biopsy include:
- Fine needle aspiration - A doctor inserts a thin needle into the area of the breast with suspicious changes and removes a few cells. Fine needle aspiration is relatively quick, and any discomfort lasts only a few seconds. A pathologist examines the fluids or cells under a microscope. This method is rarely used as the primary method of diagnosing breast cancer, but it may be used to determine whether the cancer has spread.
- Core needle biopsy - This is the most common method of examining suspicious breast changes. The doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the area, and then a large, hollow needle to remove some tissue for examination. The results can help your doctor determine the best treatment plan if needed.
- Image-guided biopsy - Modern computer-imaging techniques, such as X-ray, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can help the doctor guide the needle into the breast to collect cells or tissue. If a lump cannot be felt, this method can make biopsy easier and may help prevent the need for a surgical biopsy.
- Surgical biopsy - The surgeon makes a small incision and removes either the entire mass of suspicious breast tissue or a sample, depending on its size and location. In most cases, you will be able to go home immediately after the procedure. We may recommend a surgical biopsy if the area is too deep or too shallow for a biopsy with a needle, or if other biopsy procedures don’t provide a clear diagnosis.
Patient Support Services
Taking care of the whole patient is an important component of providing personalized cancer care. Integrated into the fabric of the Miami Cancer Institute, the Cancer Patient Support Center addresses the psychological, physical, social and spiritual needs of our patients during cancer treatment and beyond.