Breast Cancer: Understanding the Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Physical Changes

Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer worldwide and the most common cancer in women. Living with breast cancer not only takes a toll mentally but also leads to a lot of unexpected physical changes.

Here is all you need to know about breast cancer.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Detecting the illness early is crucial so that treatment can be started as early as possible. Visit your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • A lump in your breast or armpit
  • Changes in the shape or size of your breasts
  • Bloody or clear discharge from the nipples
  • Rashes, or scaling or flaking of skin on the breast or around the nipple
  • Redness of the skin on the breast or the nipple
  • Inverted nipples
  • A hard, marble or pea-like lump in your breast

What Risk Factors Are Associated with Breast Cancer?

While the exact cause of breast cancer remains unclear, the following are some of the potential risk factors:

  • Women over the age of 50 
  • Women with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes 
  • Women with a family history of breast cancer.
  • Women with dense breasts 
  • Women who started having their period before 12 or had menopause after 55.

A few other factors, like inadequate diet, obesity, excess alcohol and tobacco consumption, sedentary lifestyle, and hormone treatments, can also play a role in breast cancer development.

What Changes Does the Body Go Through During Breast Cancer Treatment?

Following are some of the physical changes to expect during the treatment of breast cancer:

  • Hair loss due to chemotherapy
  • Irregular menstrual cycles, along with symptoms like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, joint pain, among others
  • Lymphedema or swelling in arms, hands, and breasts
  • Red rashes on the skin due to radiation therapy
  • Weight gain

How Can You Deal with the Physical Changes That Follow Breast Cancer?

If you are considering breast reconstruction surgery, consult a plastic surgeon to discuss the options available. Such options may include getting silicone implants, using a prosthetic breast, or reconstructing the original breast using one’s breast tissue. 

To cope with other physical changes,

  • Follow a healthy, nutritious diet, 
  • Get adequate physical activity, and 
  • Drink lots of water

To deal with the hair loss, consider using wigs, hats, or scarves.

To ease the skin irritation due to radiation, use ointments or creams as recommended by your doctor.

Maintain a Positive Outlook

While early diagnosis is key to a higher survival rate, a positive outlook is indispensable for living with breast cancer. Your attitude and outlook may depend on factors like your age and the type, size, and grade of breast cancer. Studies suggest that good mental health is essential to ensure a longer life post-breast cancer. If you accept the illness and physical changes with a positive mindset and have a strong support system to boost you when you feel low, the chances of surviving breast cancer multiply exceedingly


Dr. Madhu Prasad, M.D., FACS

Dr. Madhu Prasad has over 30+ years of experience working as a general surgeon and surgical oncologist and providing the highest level of care in Anchorage, Alaska. He believes in providing quality care to patients and their families. Inspired by compassion and humanism, Dr. Prasad and his team work for the well-being of their patients.

Alaska Cancer Treatment Center

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