Breast Cancer FAQ

Breast Cancer FAQ

Why talk about breast cancer?

Unlike so many conditions, breast cancer can be present with very few actual signs or symptoms yet 1 of 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed in her lifetime. These two factors make awareness so critically important. It is very important for you to understand signs and symptoms as well as the tools available for early detection including everything from self-breast exams to routine mammograms. Finding breast cancer early allows for excellent survival rates and treatment options.


What are the symptoms of breast cancer & why is detection so important?

The majority of breast cancers are found on screening mammogram prior to symptoms. Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer do not have symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening mammogram is so important. 

Symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person and according to different types of breast cancer. Some common breast cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling a breast lump or mass
  • Focal irritated or itchy breasts
  • pain in a specific area of the breast that does not go away
  • Focal change in breast color
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • Increase in breast size or shape
  • Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
  • Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
  • A breast lump or thickening
  • Redness or pitting of the breast skin
  • dimpling of the skin on the breast
  • pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast

However, if any of these symptoms do occur, it does not necessarily mean that cancer is present. The changes can often be the result of benign breast conditions. If you do have any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to you doctor.

A mammogram is a specialized X-ray of the breast that checks for cancer. The American Cancer Society offers guidelines on cancer screenings.

The guidelines are as follows:

  • Women aged 40 to 44 can start having mammograms if they wish.
  • Women aged 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year.
  • Women over 55 should have a mammogram every two years, but can have one annually if they wish.
  • However, mammography does not find all breast cancers. So individuals should talk to a doctor to identify the best screening process for them.
  • Anyone who has any concern that they might have breast cancer should go and see their doctor.

I've had a breast cancer diagnosis, what can I expect surgically?

With an early diagnosis and advances in treatment, breast cancer can be treated successfully and, in many cases, cured. Surgery is usually the first line of treatment for breast cancer unless the tumor is very large or has spread to other parts of the body, in which case chemotherapy may be needed first. 

The surgical options for breast cancer include:

  • Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy or partial mastectomy) - Lumpectomy removes the tumor and some surrounding normal breast tissue.
  • Mastectomy - removes the entire breast and can be bilateral with or without reconstruction. Mastectomy

Which option is best depends on tumor size, breast size, and personal preference, as well as other aspects of the medical history. If mastectomy is performed, breast reconstruction can often be done during the same surgery.

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it's important to find out if the cancer has spread. To help find out if the cancer has spread beyond the breast, a sentinel node biopsy will be performed. In this procedure, one or more of the lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph nodes) may be removed and checked under a microscope. When the lymph nodes contain cancer cells, your surgeon will discuss several different options to include:

  • Sentinel Node Biopsy: Removing a limited number of lymph nodes) To determine whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, your surgeon will discuss with you the role of removing the lymph nodes that are the first to receive the lymph drainage from your tumor. If no cancer is found in those lymph nodes, the chance of finding cancer in any of the remaining lymph nodes is small and no other nodes need to be removed.
  • Axillary lymph node dissection: (Removing several lymph nodes) If cancer is found in the sentinel lymph nodes, your surgeon will discuss with you the role of removing additional lymph nodes in your armpit.

What is breast cancer surgery recovery like?

Recovery varies with the type of surgery required to treat each individual.  Some of these factors taken into consideration include the size and location of the tumor, the general health of the woman, and the preferences of the patient and doctor.

Most women do not experience significant pain or discomfort following a lumpectomy and can actually expect to resume their normal activities after a few days. If a quarter or more of the breast was removed, the woman should expect a slower healing process. It can take a few weeks to recover from mastectomy surgery, and longer if you have had reconstruction.

You may have lifting and activity restrictions after surgery. Plan to avoid bouncing activities like jogging, raising elbows over your shoulders and repetitive arm movements for the first week following surgery. It is very important that you plan to wear a supportive bra for 24 hours/day for the first week unless you are showering. Preventing infection is usually an emphasis of the doctor's home care instructions.

Recovery instructions will be tailored to individualize a plan of care based upon your specific needs.


Why am I passionate about treating breast cancer?

I am passionate about treating breast cancer because of the significant impact it has on women's lives. Breast cancer is so prevalent and generally easily treatable if found early. I love working with my patients to find the best plan and treatment tailored specifically to fit their needs.


To Make an Appointment

To find out more about Breast Procedures offered at CSA Surgical Center in Columbia, Missouri please call Columbia Surgical Associates at 573-443-8773 and schedule an appointment with a board-certified general surgeon.

Dr. Suppes
Dr. Nelson