What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
Early detection plays a vital role in the timely treatment of breast cancer. In the 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:
- A painless breast lump
- Bloody discharge from the nipples
- 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 patients, a lump in the breast is the first sign of a cancer risk. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges, has a higher 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 do not need exceptional skills or medical training. However, each pair of breast is unique, so it is essential to establish what is ‘normal’ – that is, how your breasts look and feel under normal circumstances, which will make it easier to spot any new or unusual change.
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)
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 difference 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?
A self-breast examination should be performed in good light, and while standing in front of a mirror. A self-breast examination should be performed only once in a month. Too many exams can lead to unnecessary anxiety.
It is also essential to understand that some changes in the breasts occur with age, and they may feel and behave differently during different times of the month. During a menstrual cycle (period), the breasts may feel tender and lumpy. Such changes occur during pregnancy, when the breasts will appear larger, and feel tender or sore. It is essential to understand, however, that the appearance or onset of one or more of these symptoms may indicate cancer. Any such signs need immediate 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.