Recognizing the Signs of Breast Cancer & Getting Treatment

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In the United States, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women. In fact, about 1 out of every 8 women will face a breast cancer diagnosis.

The most well-known sign of breast cancer is a mass or lump on the breast itself. But what other early symptoms of breast cancer should you watch out for? What should you be aware of? 

Let’s take a more in-depth look at how to recognize breast cancer symptoms, and how to include physical therapy as part of your breast cancer treatment/recovery.  

The Early Signs of Breast Cancer

While they vary from woman to woman, early warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • Alterations in one or both nipples.
  • Nipple discharge.
  • Swelling, redness, or a change in one or both breasts.
  • Breast pain.
  • Lumps on the breast.
  • Change in breast color.
  • Flaking or peeling of the nipple.
  • Change in breast size or shape.
  • Itchy or irritated breasts.
  • Pitting of the skin on the breasts.

Many of these symptoms may also indicate a skin disorder or irritation. Thus, it’s very important to get your symptoms checked out by a doctor or dermatologist as soon as you notice them. 

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Other Breast Cancer Symptoms You Should Know

As the disease develops, the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in women become more obvious and severe. Unlike the early signs of breast cancer, later symptoms may include:

  • Turning inward of the nipple.
  • Swelling of the breast.
  • An obvious lump or mass in the breast.
  • Breast and/or nipple pain, discomfort, or soreness.
  • The skin on the breast or nipple is scaly, red, or thickened.

If you have any of these breast cancer symptoms, book an appointment with your doctor immediately. The first step is recognizing the signs and catching it early enough to receive proper treatment and care. 

However, it’s also important to be aware that some types of breast cancers will not have any symptoms or signs. The American Society of Breast Surgeons recommends that all women age 25 and older should have a formal risk assessment for breast cancer. There are guidelines for timing and frequency of breast cancer screening based on your risk. Learn more from the CDC Breast Screening Guidelines for Women.

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Getting Treatment 

For breast cancer, it is typically recommended to remove the cancerous tissue via a lumpectomy or mastectomy. If you’ve undergone either procedure, you may notice a change in your mobility and function. This is due to the damage it causes to the surrounding muscle tissue. Therefore, rehabilitation and physical therapy are highly recommended  prior to these surgeries as “prehabilitation” to assess baseline measurements and establish a pre-surgery exercise program in addition to after surgery/treatment to minimize side effects and regain function and strength.. 

Physical therapy interventions for breast cancer will include:

  • Manual Therapy: hands on treatment by the physical therapist to help restore range of motion, to break up any scar tissue or adhesions that may have formed, and to decrease swelling throughout your neck and upper extremity. 
  • Exercise: A graded strength, flexibility, and endurance training program individualized to your body will be created to improve your function and get you back to your baseline.
  • Education: A therapist will help answer any of your questions about your rehabilitation and recovery process and will help provide appropriate education about your condition Lymphedema Treatment: Physical therapy will address any lymphatic changes that have occurred to your body and utilize manual lymphatic drainage techniques, compression bandaging, and educational instruction about self care.

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Whether it’s been a few months or a few years after you’ve recognized the first signs of breast cancer and undergone surgery, you can still benefit from physical therapy intervention. Using the BetterPT website or app, you can find a clinic with the right physical therapy specialty you need. Discover a suitable physical therapist near you. 

BetterPT makes physical therapy more convenient than ever before with direct access to PT. You no longer need a doctor’s referral to book an appointment and gain back your normal function and life. It’s all possible via suitable and easy-access physical therapy treatment. 

Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her bachelor's degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. She has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.

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