Woman performing breast exam

5 Common Breast Cancer Symptoms

Screening is Key for Early Treatment

Early detection is important when it comes to diagnosing breast cancer and starting treating, so never hesitate to make an appointment. There are several breast changes that could be symptoms of cancer. Symptoms will often look different between patients, as everyone experiences them differently; your case will be unique to you and your body. If you think you might be exhibiting breast cancer symptoms, be sure to consult your doctor.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

When you hear the words breast cancer, you might automatically think of lumps and bumps in the breast tissue. However, there are several other breast cancer symptoms that you should be aware of. Be sure to make an appointment with your physician if you experience any of the following:

1. Breast Lumps

One of the most common breast cancer symptoms is breast lumps. These are also usually the first thing that people notice, alerting them that something may be wrong.

However, breast lumps are not usually a sign of cancer. They can occur for many other reasons, including hormonal changes, infections or a condition known as fibroadenoma.

With that said, you should get any breast lumps investigated by a doctor as soon as possible, especially if they have just appeared or suddenly grown larger.

Cancerous breast lumps tend to be hard and painless, with uneven edges. However, they can also be soft, round and tender. Your doctor will refer you for tests to investigate whether your lump is due to breast cancer or not. These tests may include:

  • X-rays.
  • Ultrasounds.
  • MRI scans.
  • Mammograms.
  • Biopsies.

In the meantime, try not to panic and remember that most breast lumps are not a symptom of cancer.

2. Changes in Breast Size or Shape

In addition to causing lumps, cancer can sometimes cause the entire breast to swell and change shape. This could make one breast look bigger than the other, or give an uneven shape.

Of course, it is normal for some women to experience swollen breasts around the time of their period. It is important to know what is normal for you and see your doctor if anything changes.

3. Skin Changes

In some cases, breast cancer symptoms can include skin changes. These changes can range from an eczema-like rash around the nipples to scaly or dimpled skin.

Breast cancer can cause dimpling on the breasts when cells build up under the skin. This leads to thickening, swelling or pitting, a condition sometimes known as peau d'orange. Peau d'orange is French for orange peel and this symptom is so-called because the skin can resemble that of a citrus fruit.

4. Nipple Changes

Breast cancer can also cause nipple changes. These might include changes in nipple position or inverted nipples. This breast cancer symptom can affect one breast or both.

The nipples may also start to release some discharge, which can be clear, yellow, red or brown. This could also be a sign of an infection, so get any nipple changes or discharge investigated as soon as possible.

5. Swollen Lymph Nodes

If breast cancer begins to spread, it can affect the lymph nodes, which are located under the arms and around the collar bone.

You may feel small, hard lumps or general swelling in this area. You might also experience some localized tenderness.

However, swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of other problems, such as an infection. Try not to panic and book an appointment with your physician.

Other Breast Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms listed above are some of the first things you might notice that lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer. However, if the disease becomes more advanced, you may also experience the following breast cancer symptoms:

  • Vaginal pain.
  • Weight loss.
  • Visible veins on the breasts.

Breast cancer does not usually cause pain. However, in some cases this could be another symptom. For example, in inflammatory breast cancer, the breasts can become red, hot, swollen hard and painful. Once again, see your doctor if you are concerned.

The Importance of Screening

Most of the symptoms of breast cancer could also be due to other harmless conditions. However, it is vital that you get these symptoms checked as soon as they arise. If you do have breast cancer, your chances of survival increase greatly if you get treatment early enough. Therefore, you should see your physician as soon as you notice any changes to your breasts or nipples.

It is also a good idea to be familiar with what is normal for you. Check your breasts regularly by looking and feeling, and pay attention to their color, size, shape, skin texture and nipple position. You should also attend your routine breast screenings as these can detect breast cancer before any symptoms occur.

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