Breastfeeding Issue or Breast Cancer?
- Morgan Ryland, a 37-year-old mother of three, was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer after going to her primary care doctor with what she thought was simply mastitis from breastfeeding.
- Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue that can involve an infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Mastitis symptoms can appear similar to those of breast cancer and can include: breast tenderness/warmth, breast swelling, thickened breast tissue, a breast lump, and pain.
- The American Cancer Society says you might need a skin biopsy to check for cancer if you’ve been diagnosed with mastitis and antibiotic treatments don’t help by about a week’s time.
- One of our experts recommends performing a monthly breast self-exam to look for breast cancer symptoms.
- Talk to your doctors about what breast cancer screening should look like for you, and don’t hesitate to seek out medical opinions if you notice any concerning changes to your health.
Symptoms of breast cancer first arrived when Ryland, a 37-year-old mother of three, was breastfeeding her youngest child Westin, and she noticed he wasn’t feeding as much on her right breast.Read More
A month went by, and her symptoms persisted. Once she started seeing changes to her skin, she knew she had to see a doctor.
“Then I started to notice some skin changes that concerned me enough to see my doctor,” she explained. “I had a bad feeling. Something’s not right. ‘Is this cancer?’ I asked. She looked at it and told me she was 99% sure it was breastfeeding related, just engorgement, but we’d do an ultrasound to be absolutely certain.”
Expert Resources on Breast Cancer
After an ultrasound, a mammogram, another ultrasound, and three biopsies, Ryland was told she had cancer.
“Had I not had that ultrasound, I may still not know I have stage 4 breast cancer,” she told People.
A follow-up PET scan revealed that her cancer had spread to her liver and spine. It was metastatic, or stage 4. She had no family history of the disease.
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“Getting a stage 4 diagnosis was so unbelievable to wrap my head around,” she explained. “I just kept thinking, ‘I’m gonna wake up from this. This is not … this cannot be real.’
“I was constantly, you know, checking my breasts and looking at my nipples and my skin and feeling around for any lumps and bumps, constantly for seven years. And so for this to happen is truly incredible to me. And if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
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For treatment, Ryland immediately began “a hormone-blocking regimen in combination with other drug therapies,” according to the family’s GoFundMe. The fundraiser, set up by friends, will support Ryland, her wife and their 3 boys ages 7, 5 and 18 months.
“Before they could wrap their head around the gravity of all that, April 2023 brought about more devastating news that the breast cancer in her liver is DIFFERENT than the breast cancer found in her breast and lymph node,” the GoFundMe page reads.
“It’s the complete opposite: HR negative/HER2 positive. It’s more aggressive, and her treatment plan would change immediately.”
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Ryland is currently underway with six rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks. After that, she’ll have “a lifetime of drug therapies, scans, etc.”
“It’s stage 4, so it’s always gonna be there. I’m always gonna be living with it. So it’s treating it in the moment with what’s working in the moment,” she says.
Ryland has the entire SurvivorNet community rooting for her. If you’d like to learn more about Ryland’s story or donate to the family’s GoFundMe, visit the link here.
What Is Mastitis?
A clogged duct — when the breast milk duct is blocked and milk can’t flow through, according to Cleveland Clinic — can lead to mastitis if it is left untreated. Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue that can involve an infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
People with mastitis can experience the following symptoms, sometimes with a sudden onset:
- Breast tenderness or warmth
- Breast swelling
- Thickened breast tissue or a breast lump
- Pain or a burning feeling – it can be continuous or only occur while breast-feeding
- Redness of the skin, commonly in a wedge-shaped pattern
- A general feeling of illness
Mastitis most often affects women who are breastfeeding, but it can also occur in women who aren’t breastfeeding and men.
It’s important to note that although mastitis does not raise your risk of getting breast cancer, symptoms can appear similar to those of breast cancer – especially when it comes to an aggressive type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society says you might need a skin biopsy to check for cancer if you’ve been diagnosed with mastitis and antibiotic treatments don’t help by about a week’s time.
Knows the Signs of Breast Cancer and Get Screened
In order to make sure we’re catching as many breast cancers as we can at the earliest stages possible it’s important for women to pay attention to any changes to their health, perform self-exams and prioritize regular screening based on their risk level.
RELATED: Women Should Now Start Getting Mammograms at 40, Expert Panel Suggests: The Benefits and Potential Risks of Earlier Breast Cancer Screening
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There is a wide consensus in the medical community suggesting women should have annual mammograms between the ages of 45 and 54. But various organizations such as the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society have slightly different recommendations.
These recommendations can also vary from person to person based on individual risk level, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about what screening should look like for you.
In addition, it’s crucial to perform monthly breast self-exams and learn what is normal for your breasts.
Getting to Know Your Breasts with Self-Exams
“For some women, that may mean going to their doctor and walking through what a self-breast exam might feel like so that they know what normal breast tissue feels like, so that if they do feel anything abnormal – whether it’s a lump or discharge from the nipple – that they know what to ask and what to look for,” SurvivorNet advisor Dr. Elizabeth Comen said.
The Mayo Clinic says the week after your period ends is usually the best time to do a breast self-exam. During the self-exam, SurvivorNet recommends you look for changes like:
- A new lump in the breast
- New swelling in the breast
- Changes to the nipple (such as puckering)
- Flaking or redness in the breast or nipple
- Discharge (including blood) coming from the nipple
- Pain in the breast
Don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional promptly if you have one or more of the symptoms above. You never know when addressing a change to your health quickly can lead to a serious diagnosis.
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