Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. It is estimated that there will be over 40,000 deaths from breast cancer in the United States in 2015. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher your chances of successful treatment will be. Therefore, being able to recognize the earliest signs and symptoms of breast cancer could potentially save your life.
Adult women should perform breast self-examinations at least once a month. Although yearly mammograms are good at detecting breast cancer before you feel lumps, self-exams are good for helping you to become more familiar with the look and feel of your breasts so you can notify your doctor if you notice any changes.
Here are some of the most common early signs of breast cancer that you should be on the lookout for.
Change in Feeling of the Breast or Nipple
One change that might indicate early stage breast cancer is a difference in how your breast feels. This could include:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area. Lumps should always be reported to and investigated by your health care professional, but this does not mean that all breast lumps are cancerous.
- A sudden increase in the tenderness of your nipples.
- A change in the texture of the skin on your breasts that some women describe as being similar to the texture of an orange peel.
Change in Appearance of the Breast or Nipple
The appearance of your breasts and nipples can also be an indicator of breast cancer. Some changes to watch for include:
- Dimpling anywhere on or near the breasts.
- Asymmetry of the breasts. Though it is common for most women to have one breast that is slightly larger than the other, if the asymmetry changes suddenly, this could indicate that something is wrong.
- A nipple that is inverted or turned slightly inward.
- An unexplained change in the size or shape of a breast.
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, areola, or nipple.
- Unexplained shrinking of a breast, especially if it is limited to one side.
- Unexplained swelling of a breast, especially if it is limited to one side.
If you are not breastfeeding, any discharge that comes from your nipples should be looked at by your doctor. Though this symptom is not always indicative of breast cancer, clear or bloody nipple discharge is something that should always be reported to your doctor as soon as possible.
There are other symptoms that might indicate breast cancer, especially if you are experiencing some of the above symptoms at the same time. These include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit
- Vaginal pain
- Pain in one spot on your breast that will not go away
In most cases, these signs and symptoms are not indicative of breast cancer. It is much more likely for these changes to be caused by a benign condition. However, it is still important to see your doctor as soon as possible, since your chances of survival are at the highest the earlier you are diagnosed.