Even though the public has learned a great deal about breast cancer, there remain more than a half-dozen popular breast cancer myths. At least one such myth relates to the signs of breast cancer. Many women believe that finding a lump in the breast means that they have breast cancer.
That myth has arisen from publication of the fact that a single, firm lump is one of the signs of breast cancer. Still, eight out of ten lumps discovered during self-examination can be classed as benign. In other words, for the majority of women, the lump is non-cancerous. At the same time, the emphasis on the possible finding of a lump in the breast has erased from the mind of many women the other signs of breast cancer.
A woman should not delay consulting with her physician if she notes any changes in her breast tissues, even changes that do not represent the development of a lump. Self-examination might reveal an area of skin on the breast or underarm that has an unusual appearance. The observation of such an out-of-the-ordinary body marking could mean discovery of one of the early signs of breast cancer.
A woman who watches for changes in her breast stands a better chance of catching one of the other early signs of breast cancer. She might, for example, notice that the veins under the skin have started to "stand-out" more on one breast. By the same token, she might note that she has an inverted nipple, or a nipple that shows a rash.
In cases of irritable breast cancer such changes in the nipple would not be an "early" sign of breast cancer. With that very aggressive cancer, nipple changes qualify as being one of the definitive signs of breast cancer. Any discharge from a nipple would also deserve a woman's due concern.
One more of the signs of breast cancer can be picked-up during self-examination of the breasts. Such an examination should allow a woman to notice any depression in an area of the breast surface. A woman might not equate a depression with a possible breast tumor, but medical experts plead with women to report all such depressions.
Once a woman has reported discovery of any of the signs of breast cancer, then her physician will proceed with a laboratory analysis of a tissue biopsy. Now in the 21st Century, many labs make use of flow cytometry. This procedure, an analysis done using special equipment, can measure the amount of DNA in each of the analyzed cells.
Cells with the normal amount of DNA are called diploid cells. A biopsy that shows diploid cells indicates that the patient is likely to be free of breast cancer cells. When more than 10% of the analyzed cells have an abnormal amount of DNA, then that sends a warning signal to the physician, who receives the lab report.
When cell cytometry shows that more than 10% of the cells have an abnormal DNA, then the patient should give an OK to more exploratory tests. The physician will need to explain to the patient that the test results have shown an increased chance that the signs of a possible breast cancer are in fact signs of breast cancer.