Breast cancer is incredibly common and occurs most often in women. With thousands of deaths resulting from breast cancer every year, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms.
Although not everyone experiences the same symptoms, the following are some tell-tale signs that breast cancer might be present. The first sign is the most noticeable and is easy to detect with a simple self-exam…
1. A lump or lumps in the breast
A breast lump is usually the first sign of breast cancer. These lumps can emerge in any area of the breast and vary in size. How these lumps feel will also vary by individual. For some, they can feel like a solid or a squishy mass. For others, they can feel painful.
The next symptom is also noticeable to the naked eye…
2. Redness and/or discoloration
If your breast suddenly becomes red or has a bruised color without any recent injury, there is a possibility that it is inflammatory breast cancer.
If the discoloration is noticeably red and there is no itching or discomfort that would accompany it (as with a rash or an injury), you should talk to your doctor about the symptoms.
Some people might experience bodily discharges if they have breast cancer…
3. Nipple discharge
Nipple discharge occurs when fluid excretes through the nipple and is another common, noticeable sign of breast cancer. Nipple discharge can look and smell differently for everyone, but in some cases, it can have a greenish color or even be bloody.
If you think you are discharging, regardless if you are pregnant or lactating, you should talk to your doctor about the symptoms.
This next symptom might be more painful than the rest on our list…
4. Pain or burning
Like the last symptom, breast pain is common for people to have, and sometimes it is brought on by something as normal as hormonal changes. It can even be a result of something as simple as a poorly-fitted bra or an increase in exercise.
If you experience breast pain for longer than a week without any changes, you should call your doctor, as it can be one of many early breast cancer signs. They will ask you questions, and they might schedule a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI to see if there are any signs of cancer.
A common indicator that pain might be cancer-related is if it occurs for several months or if it is continuous after more than one to two weeks, just like the next symptom explains…
5. Swollen or partially swollen breasts
Like the last two symptoms, this one might be mistaken for hormonal changes because it is a common symptom to have in otherwise healthy individuals. You should try to see a doctor after one week of noticing the swelling and/or tenderness if it has not improved.
Because this symptom is so common among healthy and sick individuals, your doctor may not initially call for any breast-examining tests right away, unless you are an at-risk patient. If you are concerned that you are an at-risk patient, ask for a test like a mammogram or an ultrasound.
The next symptom might also be cause for concern…
6. Changes in skin texture
Changes in breast texture is a noticeable sign of pre-developed cancer. This change mostly translates to skin suddenly becoming rougher or flaking off the breast and/or nipple, and it can be likened to a breast cancer rash, itchy with patches.
Now, breast texture changes may not show up alone. This symptom is usually accompanied by redness or discoloration around the nipple and possibly swelling or pain in the area, too. Others might additionally notice pimples on or around the nipple.
The next symptom also has something to do with the appearance of your breast…
7. Nipple retraction
As the name suggests, this symptom is when your nipples retreat into your body. While not a common cancer symptom, it is one of the most noticeable.
It’s important to know the difference between nipples that are laying flat against the skin and those that are going into the skin. After all, the position you are in, your weight, or other factors can make your nipple lay flat and are no cause for concern.
In fact, even retracting nipples themselves are not an automatic sign of breast cancer; menopause and aging can also cause this symptom. Whether you are around the menopausal age or not, though, you should talk to your doctor about the symptom if you notice it.
8. Dimples in the breasts
It’s easy to confuse dimples with changes in breast texture, and the size of the dimples can range from only a centimeter in size to a majority of the breast—making this symptom one that’s often hard to detect.
Breast dimpling is less common for cancer patients and taken a little more seriously when noticed since it has fewer causes. Usually, the symptom is only caused by two conditions: fat necrosis (the breast tissue is dying, usually as a result of surgery or injury) and breast cancer. If the cause is cancer, it is normal to see other symptoms like discoloration and/or swelling before your breast starts to dimple, although this is not always the case.
9. Swollen lymph nodes
Swollen lymph nodes are incredibly noticeable, even if you do not regularly do breast exams.
The lymph nodes that become swollen from breast cancer are often found in and around the armpit or even the breast itself. You might not notice them normally, but when they become swollen, they can feel like small lumps that may cause a warm or burning sensation, or even a dull ache or sharp pain.
The final symptom can occur over a long or short period of time…
10. Changes in breast shape
It’s not just the size of your breasts that may change with cancer, but also their shape. Changes in breast shape may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms like discoloration or pain.
Now, changes in breast shape may be the result of either swelling, the presence of lumps, or enlarged lymph nodes. While not exclusively a sign of cancer, a change in breast shape—especially when accompanied by other tell-tale cancer symptoms—is a good indication that it’s time to contact a doctor.