September 8, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team
Updated Version - July 10, 2023
Although breast cancer generally shows no symptoms in the early stage, timely detection can improve your chances of beating this deadly disease. A breast lump is the most common presenting symptom. But for about 1 in 6 women with breast cancer, the broad spectrum of symptoms doesn't include a lump.
In this article, we'll mention the early signs of breast cancer and describe some treatment options.
Early Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Early on, a person may notice a change in their breast when they perform a monthly breast exam or when minor abnormal pain doesn't seem to go away. Early signs of breast cancer include:
- Changes in the shape of the nipples.
- Breast pain that doesn't go away after your next period.
- A new lump that doesn't go away after your next period.
- Nipple discharge from one breast that's clear, red, brown, or yellow.
- Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast.
- Swelling or a lump around the collarbone or under the arm.
- A lump that's hard with irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous.
Later Signs of Breast Cancer
Later signs of breast cancer include:
- Retraction, or inward turning of the nipple.
- Enlargement of one breast.
- Dimpling of the breast surface.
- An existing lump that gets bigger.
- An "orange peel" texture of the skin.
- Poor appetite.
- Unintentional weight loss.
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit.
- Visible veins on the breast.
Treating Breast Cancer
Depending on the type and stage of cancer, treatments can vary. Here are some common practices doctors and specialists use to combat breast cancer:
A lumpectomy is when your doctor removes the tumor while leaving your breast intact.
A mastectomy is when your doctor surgically removes all of your breast tissue including the tumor and connecting tissue.
Chemotherapy is the most common cancer treatment, and it involves the use of anticancer drugs. These drugs interfere with cells' ability to reproduce.
Radiation therapy uses radiation beams to treat cancer directly.
Hormone therapy can be used when hormones or HER2 play a part in cancer's growth.
Early detection and treatment are key factors in the success of any cancer treatment. Detecting breast cancer at the earliest stage makes treatment easier and usually cures it. Knowing how to recognize breast cancer warning signs and risk factors is important. Detecting breast cancer early is the most effective way to fight it.
What are the early signs of breast cancer?
Early signs of breast cancer can include a new lump or mass in the breast or underarm, swelling of all or part of a breast, skin irritation or dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the breast skin or nipple, or a nipple discharge other than breast milk. It's important to note that these signs can also be related to benign conditions.
How can I perform a self-examination for breast cancer?
A self-exam for breast cancer is performed by using the pads of your fingers to check your entire breast and armpit area for any lumps or thickening. Check both breasts for any changes in size, shape, or color, as well as any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples. Self-exams should be performed regularly - about once a month - to familiarize yourself with your breasts so you can notice any changes.
Are there non-lump signs of breast cancer?
Yes, breast cancer can present with non-lump symptoms. These can include changes in the size or shape of the breast, skin changes (such as dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaling), nipple changes (like inversion or discharge), or unexplained breast pain. It's crucial to get any persistent breast changes checked by a healthcare professional.
What does a breast cancer lump feel like?
A breast cancer lump is often hard and immovable with irregular edges. However, they can also be soft, round, and tender. Lumps can be painless or may cause a noticeable change in breast size or shape. Any new lump or change in breast tissue should be checked by a healthcare professional to rule out cancer.
Can breast cancer cause pain?
Breast pain alone is more often a symptom of benign breast conditions than breast cancer. However, if it's part of other symptoms or persists and is localized to one specific area of your breast, it's important to get it checked by a healthcare professional. A lump may or may not be present.
Are changes in the size or shape of the breast a sign of cancer?
Yes, changes in the size or shape of the breast can be a sign of breast cancer. This could include unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast (particularly if it's only on one side), or changes in the contour of the breast or nipple.
Can skin changes on the breast indicate cancer?
Yes, certain skin changes on the breast may indicate cancer. These can include dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaliness of the breast skin.
Can nipple discharge be a sign of breast cancer?
Nipple discharge can be a sign of breast cancer, especially if it's bloody or clear and only from one breast. While nipple discharge can also be due to a benign breast condition, especially if it's milky or green, any new, unusual, or persistent nipple discharge should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
How does inflammatory breast cancer present differently than other forms?
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive form of breast cancer. It presents with symptoms of inflammation like redness, swelling, and warmth in the breast, often without a distinct lump. The skin may also appear pitted, like an orange peel. Any sudden changes or symptoms like these should be immediately reported to a healthcare provider.
What should I do if I find a lump or other breast changes?
If you notice a lump, changes in breast size or shape, nipple discharge, or any other unusual changes in your breasts, it's important to contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. They can perform tests to determine the cause of these changes and whether they're indicative of breast cancer or a benign condition.
Can men get breast cancer? What are the signs?
Yes, men can get breast cancer, although it's much less common than in women. The signs are similar and include a lump in the breast, changes to the skin or nipple, nipple discharge, or pain in the breast.
Are there any early signs of breast cancer that are commonly overlooked?
Some early signs of breast cancer that may be overlooked include slight changes in the size or shape of the breast, subtle skin changes, nipple discharge or inversion, or unexplained pain in a specific area of the breast. It's essential to get to know your breasts and what is normal for you so that you can identify any changes.
Can breast cancer occur without any signs or symptoms?
Yes, breast cancer can occur without obvious signs or symptoms, particularly in the early stages. This is why regular screenings such as mammograms are so important, as they can detect breast cancers early, often before they can be felt.
How often should I perform self-examinations for breast cancer?
It's generally recommended to perform a breast self-exam once a month. Regular self-exams help you familiarize yourself with your breasts, making it easier to notice any changes that might occur.
What lifestyle changes can I make to reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of breast cancer include maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding smoking, and considering breastfeeding if possible. Regular screening is also key for early detection.
Is sudden breast asymmetry a sign of cancer?
Breasts are often naturally slightly different in size or shape. However, if you notice a sudden change in the symmetry of your breasts, it could potentially be a sign of breast cancer and should be checked by a healthcare professional.
What is Paget's disease of the breast and how is it related to breast cancer?
Paget's disease of the breast is a rare form of breast cancer that starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the nipple and areola. It can cause symptoms such as redness, scaling, itching, and burning in the nipple. Any persistent changes to the nipple should be checked by a healthcare provider.
How effective are mammograms at detecting early breast cancer?
Mammograms are effective at detecting breast cancer early, often before it can be felt. They can detect lumps, calcifications, and other changes in the breast that may be signs of cancer. Regular mammograms are a key part of early breast cancer detection.
Does family history increase my risk of breast cancer?
Yes, having a close relative (such as a mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer can double your risk of developing the disease. However, it's important to note that most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
Can breastfeeding reduce the risk of breast cancer?
Research suggests that breastfeeding can slightly reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, particularly if breastfeeding lasts for 1.5 to 2 years. However, this has to be balanced with other lifestyle factors and personal choices.