Effects of Breast Cancer (FAQ)

The National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that in 2022, about 287,500 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S.- as well as 51,400 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. It is also known to be one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women (besides skin cancer). That being the case, one must note that everyone’s experience will vary between individuals. There are common signs one can seek. But if you find your experience is different, do not be quick to discredit it.

How Does Breast Cancer Make Your Body Feel?

While breast cancer does affect how your body feels, many side effects can be attributed to treatment. Some common effects may include:

  1. Tiredness: A common side effect/symptom is fatigue. This feeling can last for a long time after treatment.
  2. Skin and hair changes: Chemotherapy may lead to your hair falling out. It can also make your skin feel itchy, red, and dry. However, it is possible that post-treatment- your hair can grow back.
  3. Swelling: Removal of lymph nodes under the arms may lead to fluid buildup that causes soreness in your arms, chest, and stomach. Certain medications may also cause fluid retention within your body- which leads to swelling in the arms and/or legs.
  4. Thinning of bone-bone and joint pain: Certain cancer-blocking medications can cause your bones to become brittle. As a result, your joints may start to hurt more. Chemotherapy may also lead to thinning of the bones. However, the disease can also cause pain that spreads throughout the bones.
  5. Affects other organs: If cancer spreads or metastases, tumors could appear in the brain, bones, liver, lung, and other parts of the body.

Certain treatments may also lead to specific effects on the body, such as:

  • Chemotherapy- Other possible side effects may include:
    • Increased risks in those with heart problems
    • Hot flashes
    • Irregular periods
    • Brain fog
    • Memory loss
    • Nausea
    • Diarrhea
    • Weight gain
    • Consistent numbness, pain, or tingling in fingers or toes
  • Hormone Therapy- Specific breast cancer tumors may require hormone therapy as a treatment option. However, the blocking of hormones can lead to brittle bones. One specific medication (Tamoxifen) may also lead to:
  • Increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and uterine cancer
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Weight gain
  • Hot flashes
  • Radiation Therapy– Radiation may lead to scarring in the lungs. You may experience:
    • Dry cough
    • Breathing issues
    • Chest pain

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Will Breast Cancer Cause Breast to Shrink?

It is true that various treatments (such as hormone therapy (as well as the disease itself) will cause changes to the breast. As of now, there is no clear evidence or research that can confirm if breast cancer will cause breasts to shrink.

Are Breast Cancer Lumps Painful?

The situation will depend on each individual. Fast-growing breast cancer lumps can be painful for most individuals. However, most cancer lumps may not cause pain around the breast or nipple area. Pain may also result from changes in hormones or other non-cancer breast conditions. If you notice any unusual changes to your breasts, consider seeking professional guidance from your doctor.

Are Breast Cancer Lumps Visible?

Some cancer lumps may be large enough to be visible. However, be aware that many cancer lumps may not be large enough to be seen by the eye. Some may only be detected by being felt. Other external signs to look out for include:

  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast.

Where Are Breast Cancer Lumps Found?

Most breast cancer lumps generally form around the breast area. It can include areas near the armpit or around the nipple. Most lumps form within the upper outer section of the breast- but cancer lumps can appear anywhere where there is breast tissue. They can also show up anywhere near the surface of the skin or deep within the area closer to the chest wall.

What Does Breast Cancer Lumps Feel Like?

The feeling of the cancer lump will vary between the type of cancer. For some, it may feel hard or firm to the touch. For others, it can feel soft, round, and tender. Others may have more difficulty detecting a lump because they have dense breast tissue.

Some typical features that often occur include:

  • Irregular edges
  • Does not easily move when you push it with your fingers
  • Grows over time
  • Appears in the upper portion of your breast

If you feel or notice anything unusual within the breast area, we highly encourage you to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Are Breast Cancer Lumps Moveable?

Breast cancer lumps are generally hard, have irregular edges, and are immovable. Most moveable lumps are usually non-cancerous and may result from the following conditions:

  • Fibrocystic changes: Firm or rubbery lumps that form when hormone fluctuations lead to fluid-filled cysts.
  • Fibroadenomas: Smooth, firm non-cancerous tumors that easily move. They are made of fibrous and glandular tissue.
  • Cysts: Oval/round lumps that form due to a buildup of fluid (which generally occur due to blocked milk ducts).
  • Papilloma: Wart-like lumps that usually form near the nipple and can cause discomfort and nipple discharge.
  • Breast Abscess: Accumulation of pus from an infection.
  • Necrosis: A round, firm lump that results from damage to the fatty tissue in the breast.
  • Sclerosing Adenosis: Overgrowth of tissue in breast lobules that are usually removed through surgical biopsy.
  • Lipoma: Growths formed of fatty tissue that form under the skin

However, some lumps can be soft, round, and moveable. Therefore, if you ever find a lump in your breast area, we highly recommend you meet with your doctor to determine its cause.

How Breast Cancer Is Treated?

There are many treatment options now available to those diagnosed with breast cancer. We highly encourage you to meet with your doctor to find an effective treatment plan. Keep in mind- everyone is different (and at different cancer stages)- so one treatment may work better than others. The following treatments can be split into the following categories:

  • Local Treatments (treatment that treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body). Treatments include:
    • Surgery: Surgery is often a treatment option for those who:
      • Would like to remove as much of the cancer as possible (types of surgery include breast conserving surgery or Mastectomy)
      • Know if the cancer has spread beyond the lymph nodes under the arm (can also remove lymph nodes [Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) or Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND)]
      • Undergo breast reconstruction once cancer has been removed
      • Help relieve symptoms of advanced cancer
    • Radiation Therapy:
      • External beam radiation therapy: The most common type of radiation therapy where a machine focuses radiation on a specific area affected by cancer.
      • Brachytherapy (aka internal radiation): A device that contains radioactive seeds or pellets is placed within the tumor bed for a short amount of time.
    • Systemic Treatments (Medications/drug treatments used to treat cancer cells). Treatments include:
      • Chemotherapy: Anticancer drugs are administered intravenously (through injection or infusion) or taken by mouth. Drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells.
      • Hormone Therapy: Progesterone and estrogen may often play a role in helping advance the growth of cancer cells. Hormone therapy helps stop the hormones from attaching to receptors.
      • Targeted Drug Therapy: This type of treatment uses specific medications that targets specific proteins that worsen the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. These medications specifically work to destroy or slow the growth of malignant cells. They can be administered through an IV, injection, or pill.
      • Immunotherapy: A type of treatment that uses medication to boost a person’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
    • Common Treatment Approaches
      • An individual’s treatment options will depend on many different factors. As mentioned previously, treatment options will depend on the type of cancer one has or what stage they are in. For example:
        • Treatment of breast cancer by stage: Generally, the more advanced the stage of breast cancer is, more treatment may be required. Depending on the stage, specific treatments (or a combination of them) will vary by stage and breast cancer advancement.
        • Treatment of triple-negative breast cancer: Chemotherapy is the main choice of treatment for this type of breast cancer. Other treatments are also possible options. However, hormone therapy does not often work because these cancer cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors and also make little to none of the HER2 protein.
        • Treatment of inflammatory breast cancer: This type of cancer is generally considered to be a Stage III breast cancer since the cancer has reached the lymph vessels (causing changes to the skin). Treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, radiation, and even hormone therapy of possible options. If one has Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer, the treatments mentioned above are still possible options. Other possibilities also include immunotherapy or targeted drug therapy with a PARP inhibitor.
        • Treatment of breast cancer during pregnancy: If you are pregnant and have a breast cancer diagnosis- your treatment option may be limited. Surgery is a safe treatment option- and chemotherapy is generally given during the second and third trimester. Radiation, hormone, and targeted therapy are usually put on hold until after the delivery of the baby.

How Does Breast Cancer Cause Death?

Death from breast cancer is usually attributed to widespread metastasis. In this stage, cancer has spread to other areas or organs and is no longer curable. A person who has an advanced stage of cancer may experience:

  • Extreme fatigue throughout the day
  • Difficulty waking up or rousing from sleep
  • Confusion about time, place, or people
  • Restlessness
  • May start to talk about things unrelated to the present moment
  • Feel more anxiety, restlessness, fear, and loneliness at night
  • Extreme sleepiness or feeling of weakness
  • Changes in breathing
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Weight loss
  • Unconsciousness

Keep in mind that the effects of breast cancer will vary for each individual. Depending on the stage and/or type of breast cancer someone has- signs, symptoms, and treatments will differ. There are only so many effects of breast cancer that we can cover within this article. Therefore, we highly encourage you to seek more information through reliable sources (such as or If you need help keeping track of signs or symptoms, you may want to consider using the FEBO app. Through our app, you have access to the symptom diary (as well as other features you may find helpful).


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