Early Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
What are the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer? While most people associate breast cancer with lumps or pain, these warning signs may be present even before you feel any breast changes or other symptoms.
The good news is that early detection greatly increases your chances of surviving the disease, so knowing the 10 most common early warning signs of breast cancer can help you make an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later.
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1) Lump in the breast
If you notice a new lump or thickening in your breast, particularly if it’s painful, you should consult your doctor immediately. One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives. The earlier you are diagnosed, especially before it has spread to lymph nodes (when treatment is more difficult), the chances for survival increase significantly. A lump is often an indicator that something is amiss with your breasts—it could mean a cyst, infection or tumour—and you want to get it checked out as soon as possible.
2) Changes in breast size or shape
Changes in breast size or shape are a common symptom of breast cancer, so it’s important to be aware of any physical changes that occur. Breast cancer may cause Enlargement (enlargement is usually caused by excess fluid being produced by your body); A lump or thickening on one side; A change in nipple position or skin texture; Skin puckering; Redness, warmth, rash, scaling or itching. Changes are often more pronounced after menopause and during pre-menstrual times. As a result, they can sometimes be hard to recognize if you aren’t looking for them.
3) Pain in your breast
Many people experience breast pain at some point in their lives. Breast pain can be a sign of breast cancer, but it’s important to note that most types of breast cancer are painless. If you experience any type of unusual or persistent pain in your breasts, even if it doesn’t seem out of place (such as right before your period), don’t ignore it. See your doctor immediately to rule out breast cancer.
4) Skin changes around the nipple
While most of us think breast cancer begins in a woman’s breasts, it can also show up as skin changes near her nipples. Anything from redness to dimpling or puckering can be caused by inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), which is extremely aggressive and should be treated immediately. Tissue that develops between your nipples may also be an early sign of breast cancer. The best way to detect IBC is with a monthly self-exam performed after a shower or bath; look for any new skin changes around your nipples or under your arms on either side of your body. If you discover something unusual, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away!
5) Discharge from nipples
A pink or red discharge from a nipple could be a sign of breast cancer. This symptom can come on suddenly or develop over time. However, the discharge doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. It could be related to another condition such as an infection, blocked milk ducts, Paget’s disease (which causes overproduction of glandular tissue), or a benign tumour called fibroadenoma that forms near breasts during pregnancy or while taking birth control pills. For example, women who are breastfeeding can experience intermittent bleeding from their nipples because their mammary glands are producing more than usual.
6) Dimpling, puckering, or redness around the nipple area
When breast cancer is developing, you may notice a change in how your nipples look or feel. Nipples can look puckered, wrinkled, indented, or dimpled. You may also notice puckering around your areola (the area surrounding your nipple). Sometimes these changes will be tender or sore. Keep in mind that some women have mildly indented or dimpled nipples even when they don’t have breast cancer; these changes are fairly common.
And it’s normal for breasts to become puckered when cold air hits them because of normal tissue contractions. But if you notice dimpling over time, see your doctor right away as it could be an early sign of breast cancer.
7) Nipple inversion
Many women experience an inverted nipple at some point in their lives, especially when breastfeeding. While it’s normal for nipples to evert (stick out) during pregnancy, they may sometimes fail to return to their original position after childbirth or after breastfeeding is completed. If a woman finds her nipples are inverted during non-pregnant or non-breastfeeding times, she should see her doctor as soon as possible for further evaluation. An inverted nipple may be a sign of breast cancer—though it’s important to remember that most inverted nipples are benign.
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8) Abnormalities with both breasts
Most people assume that breast cancer can only occur in one breast, but that’s not true. A significant number of women (about 4 out of 10) will develop lumps or abnormalities in both breasts at some point during their lives. Be aware if you notice any changes to your breasts, even if they’re tiny or seemingly insignificant. This is one symptom that can often be overlooked; a lump or change might be small enough to feel with your fingers rather than see with your eyes. It’s important to have any new breast changes checked by a doctor as soon as possible because having multiple lumps increases your risk for cancerous tumours.
9) Risk factors such as family history
Not all breast cancers have a clear genetic link, but if you have a family history or two or more close relatives with breast cancer, your risk increases significantly. You might consider talking to your doctor about genetic testing to see whether you are at increased risk. At some point in their lives, nearly 1 in 4 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer—but that doesn’t mean every woman who receives a diagnosis has an abnormality that could be detected by a genetic test. Genetic testing can also play a role in determining treatment options.
For example, if you know your BRCA gene is defective, there are several possible interventions for that specific type of cancer—one of which might work for you even if it wouldn’t otherwise apply to you.
10) Getting checked early helps
The earlier breast cancer is detected, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful. You can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by being aware of your body, knowing what’s normal for you and getting regular checkups at a well-known hospital. If you notice any changes or feel something different, don’t ignore it; contact your doctor immediately so that you can get checked out before it’s too late.