Breast cancer can attack anyone, at any age. According to BreastCancer.org, 1 in 8 women in America will develop invasive breast cancer, and 1 in 1,000 men will develop it. Breast cancer is the second most fatal cancer for women in the United States. The earlier the cancerous cells are detected, the better your chances for survival. Here are a few of the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
The Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
There is no one pin-point reason for having breast cancer; however, there are common signs and symptoms exhibited in men and women. The most common signs of breast cancer in women are breast pain, discharge in the nipple, and lumps in the breast. For men, they will experience a non-painful mass, generally below the nipple.
As stated above, breast pain is one of the most common signs of breast cancer… that’s noticed. This is usually a later symptom, not exhibited in the beginning stages of breast cancer. Due to women not performing self-breast exams often or not having a regularly scheduled mammogram, the earliest symptom, breast lumps, goes unnoticed. So women see their doctor once the pain develops.
Not all types of breast cancers cause pain, and in fact, the majority of the time a woman experiences pain in the breast, it is not caused by breast cancer. These pains can be recurring or non-recurring. If it’s a recurring pain lasting more than a few months, it’s advised to see your doctor. If the pain concerned is focal (just one spot in the breast) and the pain progresses, this is an indication to see your doctor.
The tricky part about breast pain in women is that it’s very common. The female body goes through many changes. This is just a few days before they start their menstrual cycle, lasting the entire cycle. It’s also common for premenopausal women. During those changes, the breast area can become sore. Other times, there may be a benign lump in the breast causing pain. A benign lump is one that is not cancerous. Breast pain can also be associated with pregnancy or trauma.
Another common symptom of breast cancer is nipple discharge. Discharge can be normal, so it’s important to understand the difference in your discharge. If you squeeze your breast and have a discharge, this is normal. Even having a milky or green colored discharge is considered safe, since women produce milk. A few causes for concern include:
- If your breast discharges without you disturbing it (squeezing it)
- If your discharge is clear or bloody
- If it’s an excessive amount of discharge and you’re not breastfeeding or haven’t recently
- If the discharge is just from one spot on your nipple as opposed to multiple spots
Lumps in the Breast
The most noticeable cause of breast cancer in its early stage is the development of lumps in the breast. A breast is naturally lumpy, making it difficult to distinguish a cancerous lump. As women become somewhat familiar with their body, they tend to learn any masses in their breasts. However, they may not perform their self-exams frequently or not at all. The new developments of lumps are the cause for alarm. The women that are committed to performing their breast self-examinations are the ones that save their own lives.
Changes in the Breast
Watch out for changes in the breast. If you notice your breast has enlarged, or your nipple has retracted, this is something you want to talk to your doctor about. A sudden appearance of veins on the breast also should be checked out. This is not always cause for alarm though. If your breast enlarges, your tissue grows as well. So your veins will also grow.
Other changes to watch out for in your breast is if your skin starts to dimple. These are visible depressions in your breast, of which you can see best if you lift your arm straight in the air. If your breast’s texture changes, such as to that of an orange peel, or starts to peel, scale, or flake, you need to schedule an exam.
Issues with Other Areas of the Body
Signs of breast cancer are not always limited to the breast area. Rapid weight loss and lumps or swelling in the armpit area are also signs of breast cancer. Cancer cells can eat away at your body’s energy, making you lose weight rapidly. Losing 10 pounds or more is cause for concern.
Breast cancer can spread throughout the body. It spreads to the lymph nodes, and the closest occurrence is the lymph nodes directly under the arm or around the collarbone.
A breast exam with your doctor is the best way to diagnose if you do, in fact, have cancerous cells in your breast. This is determined by a mammogram, biopsy, ultrasound, or sometimes an MRI. These tests are not always conclusive, so you should visit your doctor a few weeks later if you are experiencing increased symptoms.