after sharing momma b’s story, I decided to follow-up by providing some info on the first steps to take should you find a lump in your breast. cancer is frightening, that we know, but it’s key to be aware of your available options – so here’s some suggestions on the first steps to take if you find a lump:
finding a lump or bump doesn’t always means its cancer. there’s a big chance it’s benign, but you HAVE to be sure.
the 1st step involves taking a closer look:
- Mammograms involve having breasts x-rayed after being squeezed between two plates. by ‘plates’, I’m referring to hospital-grade not dinner (that’s a whole other post that you won’t find on this blog.. or will you… hmm). it’s not pleasant but there are worse things one could do. the mammographer will take pictures of breasts from different angles since obtaining a clear view of the mass isn’t always easy. oftentimes, this is only the first step in your boob ‘photo shoot’.
- Ultrasounds are far less painless than mams; a high-frequency sound wave test is used for those with dense breast tissue and/or to further review an unclear mammogram. The technician squirts a standard ultrasound gel on your breast before running a wand-like device over the area where the lump is located. results are made available within a few days, maybe sooner.
- MRI’s are not always (but sometimes) required. a 3-D picture is taken of your breast but first, you’ll be injected with an intravenous dye to help highlight any abnormalities. you’ll lie facedown on a table that has a hole cut out for your breast. then you’ll be slid into a tube, where you’ll be required to stay still for 30min while a machine buzzes around you. earplugs might be required and maybe a mild sedative if you’re claustrophobic like me.
the 2nd step involves your doctor taking a sample. when cancer is suspected, a biopsy is often recommended. again, this does NOT mean it’s cancer. removing a small amount of tissue for a microscopic evaluation is necessary to be certain. breast biopsies rarely require an overnight bag and most are performed using a local anesthetic. depending on the size and location, one of three procedures are performed:
Fine-needle biopsy is a test often done when a lump can be felt but not seen on film. a thin needle is inserted and you might feel pressure though not necessarily pain. if the mass is squishy, it’s most likely a cyst which can be drained. if firm, the needle might be inserted several times to extract enough samples. the mere thought of needles makes me cringe. never a pretty scene, the slightest prick in my finger requires hand-holding, averted eyes, and several “okay, wait. gimme a minute. ohhhhh boy, (deep breath), I can do this. no, wait, gimme a minute.” it’s been this way since I was little. no signs of improving. and if the technician is not in the mood to be patient with me. it can get really ugly. really. ugly.
Core-needle biopsy might be performed if your doctor suspects the lump is solid. Using either an ultrasound or mammogram, your doctor will use a needle attached to a mechanical device to take three tissue samples from the lump. here’s where you’ll need to prepare yourself for a tugging sensation and a loud noise. a similar breast-hole table might be used like with the MRI. the process could take as little as 20-min, but you’ll be sore, so you’ll want to take it easy for the rest of the day.
Excisional biopsy is medicalese for surgery. usually a last resort if less invasive needle biopsies prove inconclusive. if the lump is very difficult to reach or if you have several areas of concern, this might be the only option. you’ll be out cold so the surgeon can work. it will be very similar to a lumpectomy and you may be in the hospital for a few hours but should plan on taking the next few days to recover.
the 3rd step and often hardest is the wait. you must wait for your sample to be sent to the lab, which can take a few days. during this time, do whatever it takes – surround yourself with friends and family, rent some of your favorite funny movies, treat yourself to a mani/pedi, go shopping – - – whatever it takes! you won’t be able to stop thinking about it but distractions help.
the 4th step involves taking action from the knowledge of knowing your options. 4 out 5 women will learn their lumps are nothing serious. but even with a diagnosis of breast cancer, there are things to feel positive about. amazingly, 97% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer beat it. if it is cancer, a few more tests (X-rays, bone scans, blood work) will be necessary before you can discuss treatment options. treatment doesn’t usually have to start immediately, take a week or two to research, get second or third opinions and consider ALL your options. treatment varies according to the size and type of tumor, but usually include some combo of the following:
Surgery in the form of a lumpectomy or mastectomy. a lumpectomy sometimes requires no overnight hospital stay, though recovery takes a week. a mastectomy requires an overnight stay and two weeks’ recovery at home. both are very successful for early cancers.
Radiation often follows lumpectomy treatments. 6weeks of radiation is the norm to zap any stray cancer cells. mastectomy patients can often skip it because all potentially risky tissue is removed during surgery. during radiation, tiny tattoos mark the areas to be treated and sessions typically last 15 minutes every weekday. you won’t feel anything at first, but fatigue and redness can follow.
Chemotherapy is generally recommended for tumors 1 centimeter or greater (stage 1 and higher). most people lose their hair and feel pretty exhausted and sick, especially right after treatment. keep in mind, everyone reacts differently – some people are completely spared of these side effects. plus there are also many new meds that can help sustain energy while controlling nausea.
fear is a terrible thing indeed, and I think we all live with a worry of our health failing us at some point. but one thing I’ve learned about cancer besides how scary it can be, is that it’s a word not a sentence. and as with all things, knowledge is key.
for more info, please visit Breastcancer.org.
* the medical information contained in this post was obtained from self.com.