While the exact causes of breast cancer are unknown, gaining as much knowledge as possible about the disease unquestionably helps in the quest to detect problems early, when chances of a cure are greatest.


Dr. Esther Dubrovsky, breast surgeon at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Baytown, discusses some of the critical facts about the disease.


Early Detection Is Key


“You are the first line of defense when it comes to breast cancer. That’s why it’s crucial to know how your breasts normally look and feel,” Dubrovsky said.


Knowing the warning signs will help you recognize when to alert your doctor.


Fact: Mammograms can detect breast cancer in its early stages, up to two years before a lump can be felt. Early detection means a better chance of effectively treating cancer.


Fact: According to the American Cancer Society, 90% of women with breast cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.


Breast Cancer Symptoms


The following are warning signs of breast cancer. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms, but keep in mind that not all lumps are cancer.

  • A painless lump or mass in or near the breast
  • A change in breast size or firmness
  • Breast skin changes, such as dimpling, a sore or a rash
  • Nipple itching, burning, rash, turning inward or discharge
  • A warm area in the breast
  • Pain in the breast
  • Swelling under the armpit or of the arm
  • Bone pain


Fact: Most breast cancers start in the milk ducts. These tubes carry milk from the milk-producing glands (lobules) to the nipple. Cancers that start in the milk ducts are called ductal carcinomas; cancers that start in the lobules are called lobular carcinoma.


Pinpointing Cancer


“Screening mammograms are able to catch cancers in very early stages, and it’s common to identify cancers that are still confined to the ducts. These cancer cells have not had a chance to break out of the ducts and invade the surrounding breast tissue,” Dubrovsky said. “Noninvasive cancer that is confined to the duct is called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, and is considered stage 0 breast cancer.”


Fact: Noninvasive breast cancers rarely cause symptoms or lumps you can feel, but they may appear as tiny areas of calcification (tiny flecks of calcium) on a mammogram.


Invasive Breast Cancers


“Breast cancer is classified as invasive if it has grown outside the duct or lobule where it started, into surrounding breast tissue. It then has the potential to spread to other areas of the body,” said Dubrovsky.


Fact: About 80% of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). It appears as a hard, firm lump. In advanced stages of IDC, the skin over the lump may appear dimpled or the nipple may be retracted (pulled inward).


Fact: About 12% of breast cancers are invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC). Rather than appearing as a hard lump, this cancer may feel like a thickening. ILC may be more difficult to detect on a mammogram than IDC.


Schedule a mammogram at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Baytown by visiting houstonmethodist.org/baytown, or calling 844-454-7465 (855-454-PINK).