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What Breast Cancer Looks Like Under the Microscope

written by: Sylvie Colette • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 8/30/2010

Because breast cancer may not present any outward symptoms, it is important to understand what a tumor might look like. Learn what symptoms to watch for and how scientists classify each type of breast cancer.

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    Cancer occurs when there is damage to the DNA and cells begin to multiply rapidly. Cancer that originates in the glands or ducts of the breast is called breast cancer. This type of cancer is largely without symptoms in the early stages. Eventually it may form a lump or cause other changes in the skin of the breast or nipple. What does breast cancer look like in different stages is determined by where it first presents itself and the path it takes. The stage of the cancer is determined by how many cancer cells are present. Stage IV breast cancer looks different than stage I breast cancer and requires different plans of attack.

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    Since the symptoms of breast cancer can differ, there isn't a single look for breast cancer. Being aware of changes in the skin, shape and feel of the breast is one of the best ways to discover breast cancer.

    Possible signs include:

    • Bloody discharge from the nipples
    • Lumps under the skin, could be as small as a pebble
    • Inverted nipples
    • Peeling skin on the nipple
    • Change in the shape of the breast
    • Change in the size of the breast
    • Dimpling or puckering on skin
    • Thickened skin
    • Redness
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    What Does Inflammatory Breast Cancer Look Like?

    Inflammatory breast cancer has different symptoms. It presents itself in a way that can be confused with a breast infection. It will include a red, inflamed, thickening of the breast. It can appear bruised or puckered. The texture can look like the skin of an orange. Another common symptom is sores that look like the skin on your breast was burned; welts, ridges or other scars can appear. Your nipple might become flat or inverted.

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    Stages of Breast Cancer

    It not only depends on the type of breast cancer or where it first presents itself; how it looks is also dependent on the stage of cancer. The stages determine how far the cancer has spread.

    Stage 0 is when cells are present only in the milk duct. Left untreated, they can increase the risk of future breast cancers.

    Stage I involves a tumor up to 2 centimeters.

    Stage II A is when there is cancer found in lymph nodes, or there is a tumor between two and five centimeters in diameter.

    Stage II B is when the tumor is in both the lymph nodes and is also up to five centimeters in diameter.

    Stage III A is when the tumor is smaller than five centimeters in diameter and present in four to nine lymph nodes.

    Stage III B is invasive breast cancer. A tumor of any size that has spread to the chest, under the ribs or breast skin.

    Stage III C is a new classification. It is marked by a tumor that has spread to more than 10 lymph nodes as well as internal sites.

    Stage IV is invasive breast cancer where a tumor has spread throughout the body, including the underarm area, beyond the breast, base of the neck, brain, lungs, bones or liver.

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    Mayo Clinic -

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