What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

Early detection plays a key role in the timely treatment of breast cancer. In early stages, the disease is at lesser progression, the tumors are small and usually have not spread to nearby organs. In such situations, the right treatment will lead to better outcomes.

Common breast cancer signs and symptoms:

  • Painless breast lump that has been noted recently
  • Bloody discharge from nipple
  • Redness of breast in non lactating women
  • Nipple retraction (nipple turning inward)
  • Skin irritation or “dimpling”
  • Unilateral scaliness, redness, or thickening of the nipple or the skin on breasts
  • A lump in the underarm area

In most of the patients , painless lump in the breast is the first sign. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges, has a greater chance of being cancerous. In some cases ,however – cancerous lumps may also present as tender, soft and rounded. Hence, it is essential that any unusual changes, if noticed, are pointed out to a doctor and checked at the earliest.

How to check breasts for unusual changes?

Checking breasts for unusual changes does not need very special skills or medical training. However, each pair of breasts is unique, so it is important to establish what is ‘normal’ – i.e. How your breasts look and feel under normal circumstances, which will make it easier to spot any new or unusual change.

Self breast examination

The only way to establish ‘normalcy’ is by checking breasts regularly, following a TLC protocol – Touch, Look, Check.

When monitoring for signs of breast cancer, it is important to check:

  • The entire breast area
  • The complete upper chest area
  • Armpits (underarm area, this is where lymph nodes are located)

Touch (palpation): The first signs of change might not be visible, but can be felt. When you touch your breasts, can you feel a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or the underarm area? You might feel the lump, but not see it.

Look: Some changes will become apparent after you review them in a mirror. Do you notice any change in the shape or texture of your breasts, the skin around the breasts, nipple, or underarm area? Do you see any unusual discharge from the breasts?

Check: Whenever you feel or see something unusual in the breast area, armpits or the upper chest area as compared to your regular self-examinations, it is best to contact a general practitioner (GP) immediately, and wait for their medical opinion on the issue.

How frequently should breast exams be performed?

Self breast examination should be performed in good light, and while standing in front of a mirror. Self breast examination should be performed only once in a month. Extremely frequent exams can lead to unnecessary anxiety.

It is also important to understand that some breast changes occur with age, and the breast feel and behave differently during different times of the month. During a menstrual cycle (period), the breasts may feel tender and lumpy. Such changes can also be seen during pregnancy, when the breasts will appear larger in size, and/or feel tender or sore. It is important to understand, however, that the appearance or onset of one or more of these symptoms should not be treated as a confirmation of cancer. Any such signs should be handled with medical assistance.

If you notice any unusual changes in sync with the symptoms mentioned in this article, we urge you to consult a doctor (general physician) or an oncologist to get tested further, using a screening mammogram or a diagnostic mammogram.

For more information on the screening systems available for breast cancer, see the full article on breast cancer screening.

For more information on the diagnostic systems available for breast cancer, see the full article on breast cancer diagnosis.


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