10 Questions About Breast Cancer

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Here are questions HealthCentral visitors asked about breast cancer and my answers.

Q: Should I worry about a vibration in my breast?

A: Many women (and men) experience a strange vibration, but as far as doctors can tell, it has nothing to do with breast cancer. If it’s on the left side, get checked for a cardio issue; but beyond that, all you can do is wait and hope it goes away. Thankfully, for most people, the vibration eventually fades and disappears.

Q: What do itchy breasts mean?

A: Unless the itchiness is accompanied by swelling, pain, dimpled skin, or other outward signs--in which case you should see a doctor--it’s probably not serious. Possible causes are dry skin, weight gain or previous surgery. Try not to scratch, and get relief by pressing hard with the heel of your hand on the itchy area.

Q: Is getting implants painful?

A: Surgeons can sometimes minimize how painful the implant process can be, and some women have a more uncomfortable experience than others. Assess your level of pain: is it controllable with OTC pain meds? Is it something you can live with until you’re ready for your implants? If not, speak to your surgeon about alternatives.

Q: What can I expect after a mastectomy?

A: You’ll probably be in the hospital for two days to a week. After that, you should plan to take a minimum of one week off work for a simple mastectomy, and at least two weeks for a mastectomy with reconstruction. Also, your surgeon may ask you not to drive for six weeks, to prevent any possible damage to your incision from a seat belt.

Q: What about painful side effects of chemotherapy?

A: Tingling, painful hands and feet as a result of chemo are miserable. Try the following: diet rich in vitamin B-12, OTC painkillers, prescribed anti-seizure drugs or antidepressents. All of these have proved helpful to some neuropathy sufferers, though none is a sure cure.

Q: When is a lump breast cancer?

A:  Only a doctor can diagnose a breast lump, and determine what it is and if it’s dangerous. Thankfully, most lumps are NOT breast cancer; a breast lump is often a non-cancerous lump, a cyst or scar tissue.

Q: What about sore breasts?

A: It's probably not a sign of cancer. Here’s what may be causing the soreness: hormones, mastitis (common breast infection), large cyst, strain. If the pain is accompanied by swelling, heat, itchiness, redness, soreness, or other signs that make it seem as if your breast is infected, see a doctor ASAP.

Q: Is discharge from the nipple normal?

A: Many women notice this happening off and on and it’s usually hormonal. However, if you’re experiencing the following, see a doctor ASAP: dark red/brown discharge, regular discharge in just one breast, thick discharge, discharge with pain or swelling.

Q: What about rashes?

A: Have you changed your shower gel or laundry detergent? Wearing a new bra? Any of these could be causing irritation. If not, here’s when to see a doctor: if the rash becomes itchier; if your breast is hot, red, swollen, painful; if the skin is dimpled; if topical anti-itch creams don't work.

Q: Will I lose my sex drive?

A: Unfortunately, the medication is suppressing estrogen, the main hormone that promotes sex drive. Try to relax; once you’re done with the drugs, you’ll probably feel like yourself again. Do the things you’ve always done to “get in the mood.” And ask your partner to cut you some slack during this difficult time.