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Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Meredith Miller | Published: June 14, 2018

Doctor diagnosing woman

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness and fundraising for those suffering from this debilitating disease. It is the most common cancer across the globe affecting millions every year and for this reason, Breast Cancer Awareness Month was created. During the month of October, fundraising takes place via walks, runs and various other activities to encourage participants to spread the word about the disease. Funds are used to research new methods of treatment, as well as research into its causes and prevention. Part of the goal of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to educate the public on the various signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer diagnoses. There are several types of breast cancer, so it is imperative that both men and women be aware of what to watch for.

Types of Breast Cancer

There are many types of cancer associated with breast tissue. Cancer may be invasive, non-invasive, metastatic or recurrent. There are also subtypes of cancer that may occur on a molecular level. An invasive cancer is one that has developed in a particular area of the breast and spread into the surrounding breast tissue. Non-invasive cancers refer to tumors that have developed separately and are confined to a particular area of the breast, such as some ductal tumors. Metastatic breast cancer refers to tumors that have developed in the breast tissue and spread to other areas of the body. Finally, recurrent tumors are ones that have been treated but reappear, either in the breast tissue, or elsewhere in the body. The most common type of breast cancer diagnosed today is invasive ductal carcinoma, affecting approximately 80% of sufferers.

How to Check Yourself

While it may take a bit of extra time, performing self-checks on a regular basis is critical. You should check breast tissue at least once a month for any abnormal developments that may be early signs of breast cancer. Early detection drastically increases survival rate and may help to prevent cancer from spreading. You may perform a breast self-exam in front of a mirror, in the shower, or lying down in bed. To do this, use the pads of your fingers and move in a circular pattern from the outside of the breast inward. Feel for any abnormal developments such as tissue thickening or lumps. In front of a mirror, examine the natural shape of your breasts. Notice any changes in color, nipple shape, skin dimpling or contouring. Be certain to check your armpits for any abnormal developments as well.

Signs of Breast Cancer

When performing a self-examination, you may notice lumpy breast tissue. This is common and is perfectly normal. If the lumpiness is uniform and can be felt in both breasts, there is no cause for worry. However, it is important to continually check to make sure the feel of the breast has not changed. Noticing abnormal developments is critical. Symptoms of breast cancer may include:

Change in the feeling of breast tissue  

Breast tissue may feel unusually thick, or a hardened lump may have developed. Skin texture may also change the feeling and can resemble the appearance of an orange peel. The nipple may also change feeling, size or shape.

Nipple discharge 

Non-breastfeeding women may discover a milky, white discharge from the nipple. Clear or bloody discharge may also be detected.

Change in appearance  

The breast may change size or shape and may develop dimpling. Skin appearance may also change and may resemble a rash, redness or swelling. Nipples may invert or turn slighting inward and may also change in color. Unexplained swelling, shrinkage or asymmetry may also occur.

Unfortunately, many symptoms of breast cancer are not detectable without sophisticated medical imagery equipment. It is highly important that you visit your doctor annually to have a breast cancer screening performed. Your doctor will ask for details on your family medical history, as well as your own. He or she will also perform a physical exam and may schedule imaging tests for a more detailed evaluation. If you are over the age 50, consider talking to your doctor about having a yearly mammogram performed.

While breast cancer cannot be prevented, performing regular self-checks and reporting any changes to your doctor may just save your life. Over a million people are diagnosed with this devastating disease each year. Of these, over 40% discovered an abnormal sign during a self-exam and reported it to their doctor. Take care of yourself, put your health first and recognize the signs and symptoms early.