Breast cancer, not counting skin cancers, is the most common cancer in women, according to the American Cancer Society. One of four cancer diagnoses in women is breast cancer. The chance for you to develop breast cancer increases with your age. The two major types of breast cancer are: 1) "in situ", ductal or lobular cancer, which is relatively benign, because it is confined and readily cured and 2) invasive breast cancer, which has or will invade surrounding tissue. Because early detection makes breast cancer more treatable, you want to screen for breast cancer at regular intervals, be aware of risk factors, especially family history, and know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. If you are aware of changes in your breasts, follow up; it may save your life.
Sign 1: Lumps
A new lump is the most common sign of breast cancer. If it is hard with irregular edges, it is more likely to be cancerous than if it is round and soft. Check out any new persistent lumps with your physician or gynecologist. Some lumps can be detected by mammograms even if you cannot find them yourself.
Breast cysts are a common cause of lumps. When the lumps are round and soft, your doctor can aspirate the fluid with a needle and syringe. Sometimes breast cysts can also be hard if they are calcified. Breast cysts can also be distinguished from breast tumors by ultrasound. No needles are required. Ultrasound is an imaging method that uses sound waves to look inside body parts. Breast cysts often come and go with the menstrual cycle. They will disappear after menopause, because they are caused by high levels of estrogen.
Sign 2: Swelling or heaviness
Even if you don't feel a lump, you may have a breast tumor if part or your entire breast is swollen or feels heavy.
Pregnancy or fluid retention due to too much salty food may make your breast heavy, but both breasts will be affected similarly.
Sign 3: Irritation or dimpling of skin
If the skin on your breast or nipple is red, thickened or scaly, it could be a sign of breast cancer, especially if it does not go away.
Breast skin can become irritated by chemicals in clothing, lotions or soaps. But this kind of irritation will disappear on its own if the offending irritant is removed.
Sign 4: Breast or nipple pain
If you experience persistent breast or nipple pain or tenderness, check it out with your physician.
Non-cancerous breast pain
Breast cysts can cause breast pain, especially when they are large.
Sign 5: Nipple retraction
If your nipple turns inward, it may be a sign of breast cancer. Report any new nipple abnormality to your physician.
Sign 6: Nipple discharge
Any nipple discharge other than breast milk needs to be checked out, especially if it is red or red-brown. A bloody discharge could be caused by cancer. Your doctor may do a "ductogram" to check it out. The secretion can also be checked under a microscope to see if it contains cancer cells.
Most fluid discharges are not cancer. If the secretion is milky or a clear green, it is unlikely that it is caused by cancer. Instead, it may be due to an infection or injury.
Sign 7: Underarm lymph node swelling
Even small breast tumors that cannot be felt can cause swelling or a lump in underarm lymph nodes. Report swollen lymph nodes to your doctor.
Non-cancerous swollen lymph nodes
Unrelated infections in your body can cause lymph nodes to swell.