After treatment for breast cancer, it is especially important for a woman to continue to do a monthly breast examination. Regular examinations will help you detect local recurrences. Early signs of recurrence can be noted in the incision area itself, the opposite breast, the axilla (armpit), or supraclavicular region (above the collar bone).
Maintaining your follow-up schedule with your physician is also necessary so problems can be detected when treatment can be most effective. Your health care provider will also be able to answer any questions you may have about breast self-examination after the following procedures.
The incision line (scar) may be thick, raised, red and possibly tender for several months after surgery. Remember to examine the entire incision line.
If there is redness in areas away from the scar, contact your physician. It is not unusual to experience brief discomforts and sensations in the breast or nipple area (even if the nipple has been removed).
At first, you may not know how to interpret what you feel, but soon you will become familiar with what is now normal for you.
After breast reconstruction
Following breast reconstruction, breast examination for the reconstructed breast is done exactly the same way as for the natural breast. If an implant was used for the reconstruction, press firmly inward at the edges of the implant to feel the ribs beneath. If your own tissue was used for the reconstruction, understand that you may feel some numbness and tightness in your breast. In time, some feeling in your breasts may return.
After radiation therapy
After radiation therapy, you may notice some changes in the breast tissue. The breast may look red or sunburned and may become irritated or inflamed. Once therapy is stopped, the redness will disappear and the breast will become less inflamed or irritated. At times, the skin can become more inflamed for a few days after treatment and then gradually improve after a few weeks. The pores in the skin over the breast also may become larger than usual.
Some women have different sensations in the breast because of changes in skin sensitivity. You may feel numbness or tingling in the breast, or feel that the breast is more sensitive to clothing or tight garments. After radiation therapy, the breast may become smaller. Normally within a year after radiation therapy, most of the changes will improve.
During radiation therapy, you should continue with monthly self-examinations of the radiated breast as well as the other breast. If you notice any new developments, call your health care provider.
What to do
By immediately reporting any suspicious changes to your physician, you will not only receive early treatment if necessary, but you will also resolve your own fear and anxiety. Most breast lumps (about 80 percent) are benign. However, your self-examination may lead you to the early detection of a new or recurrent cancer. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances for successful therapy.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/25/2008...#8318