13 signs of breast cancer
According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute, women who spot the signs of breast cancer at an earlier stage have a 99 percent chance of living for more than five years.
Feeling a lump in the breast is generally the first sign of breast cancer. Breast cancer can cause additional symptoms to the skin on and around the breast.
- Hard lump
- Any changes in the breast or underarm that do not go away need to be evaluated. A hard lump would be the primary sign of breast cancer.
- Most women discover this lump by accident or during their self-examination.
- Unexpected changes in shape or size of the breast
- Usually, there could be slight differences in the shape and size of both breasts.
- Breastfeeding can cause changes in the shape and size of the breast due to excess milk production. However, if you notice sudden flattening, swelling, or drooping of the breast, this could indicate breast cancer.
- Skin sores
- A malignant tumor may grow to an extent where it might damage the skin of the breast to form an open wound. An open wound is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria, causing infection.
- Inverted nipple
- Some women may have inverted nipples when the breast was formed, which can be normal. However, if you notice a newly developed nipple sinking, flattening, or inverting, it could indicate breast cancer.
- A cancerous tumor may pull the nipple toward it as it grows further.
- Changes in the nipple direction
- Nipples changing their direction suddenly could indicate breast cancer. Note these changes to inform your physician at the earliest.
- Nipple discharge
- Discharge from nipple apart from breastmilk should be informed to your doctor. If you notice any blood, you should immediately inform your physician and seek appropriate treatment.
- Breast pain or discomfort
- Breast pain may not be typically indicative of breast cancer.
- A growing lump may cause heaviness or discomfort in the breast. You can experience breast discomfort or soreness for a short period, which might not have a definite diagnosis.
- Although breast cancer is usually painless, you should be alert and avoid ignoring any unusual symptoms.
- Dimpling or puckering
- Breast cancer may cause dimpling or puckering over the breast skin. It can sometimes give the breast a typical “orange peel” appearance. It is caused by the blockage of the tiny lymph vessels in the breast by cancerous cells.
- Breast cancer can lead to the swelling of the entire breast or a particular area. Once the breast swells, there might not be a distinct lump, but the breast can change in shape and size.
- Lymph node changes
- When the tumor spreads to the surrounding lymph nodes, there might be some changes observed in this area. Usually, the lymph node swells in the armpit or around the collar bone.
- Changes in the lymph node are usually felt as small, firm, swollen lumps.
- Redness or heat of breast skin
- Nipple crust
- If you notice sudden flaking or drying of the skin, it could be a sign of breast cancer. Breastfeeding mothers may experience these changes, which resolve with skin remedies.
- Growing veins on the breast
- Engorged veins are one of the rarest symptoms of breast cancer. With the presence of a malignant tumor, the veins become more pronounced on the breast or near the collarbone.
- Malignant tumors in the breast may cause the vein to draw more blood, leading to engorged veins.
7 signs of breast cancer in men
You can tell if a guy has breast cancer if they have a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Male breast cancer exhibits the same symptoms as female breast cancer, including a lump. Male breast cancer may cause skin changes in the nipple.
The seven signs of breast cancer in men include:
- Redness or sores on the chest or nipple area
- Inverted nipples (the nipple is pulled inward)
- Discharge from the nipple
- Redness or scaling of the skin covering the breast
- Thickening in your breast tissue
- Nipple pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm
It is important to note that breast enlargement is not a sign of breast cancer. The medical term for enlarged breasts is gynecomastia. Sometimes, the breast size can increase disproportionately.
A few causes of breast enlargement include:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Weight gain
Breast cancer, when detected early, is treatable. Do not delay consulting a physician if you observe these symptoms. Postponing the treatment can cause cancer to spread to other tissues and organs.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Doctors will ask for signs and symptoms, take your complete medical history, and perform a physical examination of your breast. They will first try to rule out other causes of breast symptoms, such as infections or noncancerous lumps (fibroadenoma).
To confirm their diagnosis, the doctor will order one or more of the tests that include:
- Breast ultrasound
- A magnetic resonance imaging scan
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Biopsy (a surgical procedure to remove the breast tissue for examination under a microscope)
Your doctor can ask for a positron emission tomography scan, which is like a whole-body CT scan. The scan helps check whether breast cancer has spread anywhere else in the body.
What are the screening tests for breast cancer and who can get one?
Screening tests mean checking for the presence of cancer even if there are no symptoms or signs. They can help find breast cancer early so that treatment can be initiated at the earliest.
Breast cancer is easier to treat successfully when it has been found early and is small. Therefore, taking a regular breast cancer screening test becomes so important.
The American Cancer Society recommends women with an average risk undergo a basic cancer screening test that includes a mammogram. Recommendations depend on their age.
- Between 40 and 44 years: Women have the option of going or not going for a mammogram every year.
- Between 45 and 54 years: Women should get mammograms every year.
- 55 years and older: Women can consider a mammogram every alternate year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. They should continue doing the screening as long as they are healthy and are expected to live for at least 10 more years.
Average risk women include those with:
- No personal history of breast cancer.
- No strong family history of breast cancer or a genetic change related to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- No history of chest radiation therapy before the age of 30 years.
How is breast cancer treated?
Your doctor will try to evaluate what type of breast cancer you have and look at various factors that include:
- Location and extent of the tumor
- Growth of the tumor (slow-growing or fast-growing)
- Your age
- Your overall health
- Your menopausal status
- Your personal preferences
- Presence of known inherited mutations such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
Depending on the above factors, the treatment of your breast cancer may include one or more of the therapies that include:
- Chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs to shrink or destroy the tumor)
- Mastectomy (surgery to remove whole or part of your affected breast)
- Targeted therapy (HER2-targeted therapy if the cancer cells contain too much HER2 protein)
- Hormone therapy (medications to treat breast cancer that is sensitive to hormones)
- Radiation (high-energy beams that are targeted toward the tumor and are often given after surgery)
- Immunotherapy (medications that use your immune system to fight cancer)
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Koo MM, von Wagner C, Abel GA, McPhail S, Rubin GP, Lyratzopoulos G. Typical and atypical presenting symptoms of breast cancer and their associations with diagnostic intervals: Evidence from a national audit of cancer diagnosis. Cancer Epidemiol. 2017;48:140-146.
Breast cancer. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1947145-overview
WebMD. Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms. https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/understanding-breast-cancer-symptoms
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer? cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/symptoms.htm
WebMD. Breast Cancer in Men. https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-men#1-3
Breastcancer.org. Male Breast Cancer. breastcancer.org/symptoms/types/male_bc/risk
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What you should know about breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.
- One in every eight women in the United States develops breast cancer.
- There are many types of breast cancer that differ in their capability of spreading (metastasize) to other body tissues.
- The causes of breast cancer are unknown, although medical professionals have identified a number of risk factors.
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- bloody nipple discharge,
- inverted nipple,
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- breast pain or sore nipple,
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- a change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple.
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