Breast Cancer begins when cells start to grow out of control and form tumors in the breast. An essential part of breast health is knowing the usual look and feel of your breasts. While lumps are the most common physical sign of breast cancer, the disease manifests itself in various ways, and not all patients develop lumps. Typically, breast cancer does not have any symptoms, especially in its early stages. This is why being familiar with your breasts and knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is crucial so you can identify any unusual changes.
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:
A Lump In Your Breast Or Underarm.
A lump or a firm feeling in the breast is the most common sign of breast cancer, and it is often one of the first noticeable symptoms. Lumps/Nodes come in all shapes and sizes, and they can sometimes spread to the underarm. Performing self-breast examinations can make it easy to notice changes in your breasts; however, some lumps may be too small to feel. This is why mammograms are NOT RECOMMENDED AS A REPLACEMENT for self-breast examinations. Most masses are generally visible on a mammogram long before you can see or feel them. Once an abnormal area is identified on the mammogram, further testing can follow.
Swelling (breasts, underarm & collarbone).
Swelling in one or both breasts, under the arms, and around the collarbone could indicate breast cancer. When a cancer cell exits the breast, it spreads to the lymph nodes under the arm of the affected breast, leading to swelling in that area. In some cases, swelling may occur long before you feel a lump in your breast. Therefore, you should bring any unusual changes in your breast to your doctor’s notice.
Indented Or Flat Breast Area.
An indentation or flatness in an area of your breast can occur due to a tumor/tumors that you can’t feel or see. Cell alterations behind the nipple caused by breast cancer are also another factor responsible for this symptom.
Breast and Nipple Changes.
Most women undergo several changes in their breasts at different life stages. If you, however, notice any of the following, ensure you notify your medical provider promptly.
- Unusual breast pain, tenderness, and discomfort.
- Changes in size, texture and shape.
- Nipple discharge (not milk) of different colors and textures, including blood.
- Nipple retraction (pulling inward)
- Unusual changes in the appearance of the breast or nipple such as:
- flaking/ peeling/ scaling
- skin dimpling/puckering
These symptoms could point to breast cancer or be symptoms of a less severe non-cancerous condition caused by other factors such as an infection or the use of some medications.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer In Men.
Although breast cancer predominantly occurs in women, men can also get it. According to the American Cancer Society, “for men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 833“. Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breast, but it often starts in the milk ducts or the glands where breast milk is made. Though not functional in the same way, men have breast tissue and the same ducts and glands, which means they can also develop breast cancer. Additionally, cancer cells grown in one part of the body can be spread to other areas.
Early detection of male breast cancer significantly improves the chances of it being treated successfully. Although there are similarities between breast cancer in men and women, there are significant differences that affect the outcome of the disease. Due to a lack of awareness of male breast cancer and the smaller size of breast tissue in men, breast cancers tend to have already spread to the closest lymph nodes and tissues when discovered.
Possible symptoms of breast cancer in men to look out for include:
- A lump or swelling in the breast.
- Redness/scaling of the nipple or breast skin.
- Nipple discharge.
- Skin dimpling/puckering.
- Breast/nipple pain.
- Nipple retraction (pulling inward)
When to Get Screened for Breast Cancer?
You should contact your healthcare provider promptly if you…
- Notice any breast changes or have any of the above symptoms.
- Have a family member that has been diagnosed with breast cancer on either your maternal or paternal side of the family.
- You have a first-degree relative (mom, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, especially during their premenopausal years.
Before deciding to get screened, you should be well informed on the health risks and benefits and the best screening options available to you. View the Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines recommendations from various leading health organizations.
The U.S Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women who are 50 – 74 should get a mammogram every two years, and women who are 40 – 49 should consult with their health provider on the best time to start screening with mammography and how frequently.