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Despite being a common disease, most women don’t get a timely diagnosis of breast cancer. This is why it’s important to know about the early symptoms of breast cancer so you can take action at the right time.
In the US, every 1 in 8th women is at risk of breast cancer at least once in life. Shocking!
Many of you are lucky to live in countries where yearly mammograms are mandatory. It’s the perfect way to look out for the warning signs of breast cancer in the early stages.
However, not everyone is as fortunate.
Economically deprived countries don’t have such large-scale annual health check-ups for women.
So today I’ll talk about the most common breast cancer early signs that you need to know about.
Let’s get right to it!
What is Breast Cancer?
Before discussing the most common symptoms of breast cancer, you should know what this disease is.
Breast cancer causes abnormal cell growth in the breast and/or surrounding tissues by attacking the cell DNA. These abnormal cells could be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
In severe cases, they can reach the lymph nodes and form tumors. That’s why diagnosing early breast cancer signs is necessary to prevent their spread.
Remember — the more you wait, the more exhausting and expensive the treatment is.
Read More: 50+ Interesting Breast Cancer Facts in 2021
What Causes Breast Cancer?
The best thing you can do to avoid breast cancer is to take care of your lifestyle. Ditch old unhealthy habits that could put you at risk of this horrifying disease.
Here are some reasons why you might develop cancer in your boobs:
- Excessive drinking and smoking
- Drinking more than 1 glass of dairy milk daily
- Being a carrier of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
- Family history of breast cancer
- Not getting sufficient sleep at night after menopause
- Not being physically active
- Obesity or overweight
- Eating lots of processed foods and meat
- Hormone therapy to delay menopause symptoms
Read More: 70+ Amazing Breast Cancer Prevention Foods
What are the Stages of Breast Cancer?
To identify what stage of cancer you have, a healthcare professional will note the different signs of breast cancer.
In the beginning, the abnormal cell growth is restricted and has not yet spread elsewhere.
But as it progresses from Stage 2 to 3, it affects the lining of the breasts, nearby tissues, and lymph nodes. By Stage 4, the damage is almost irreversible, and you’d be on lifetime treatments.
With the best treatments at the right times, you can control the early and advanced symptoms of breast cancer and ensure you live for years! 🙂
How to Check for Breast Cancer Signs?
Many women get timely treatment only because of regular breast examinations.
According to Dr. Catherine Tuite of Fox Chase Cancer Center, “Patients are experiencing better outcomes as a result of early diagnosis, state-of-the-art treatment options, and less extensive surgery.”
Experts recommend watching out for cancerous growth using the following methods:
- Breast cancer mammogram:
In developed countries like the US and UK, women who are 40+ years or nearing menopause have to undergo yearly breast cancer mammograms. This test identifies if you’re at risk of breast cancer or how far it has spread.
Read More: How to Prepare for A Mammogram
- Breast cancer ultrasound:
You’ll probably be asked to go for an ultrasound if you have heavy breasts. It gives a deeper view inside the chest tissue and searches for cancerous cells.
- Breast cancer MRI:
Breast MRI is a more sophisticated way to do a medical examination of your girls.
Doctors usually recommend an MRI if they notice something suspicious in other tests and need to take a closer look. It’s completely safe and has no side effects.
- Breast cancer monthly self-check:
One of the safest techniques to keep a check on your bosom is by doing monthly breast self-exams at home.
You don’t need any equipment. All you need to do is follow 3 techniques to self-examine your girls at home and look for any breast cancer warning signs.
Tell-Tale Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Females
Now let’s take a look at some of the early signs of breast cancer that you should watch out for.
Lumps are one of the leading breast cancer warning signs. A study found that almost 74% of women experience suspicious bumps in the bosom before cancer diagnosis.
The good news is that not all of them are cancerous. At times, benign lumps develop because of fibroadenoma or mastitis.
So how to know if the lump is cancerous?
Generally, a breast cancer lump would feel like an irregular mass that’s almost immovable and rigid. Most of them are painless to touch but some could be painful.
You may feel the breast cancer lumps are located anywhere in the deep tissues of the bosom, around nipples, the outer chest region, or even under the armpits.
These are some other characteristics you should look out for:
- Uneven or irregular edges
- Feels hard
- Keeps increasing in size
- Often present in just one breast
2. Nipple Discharge
A common way to know if you have breast cancer symptoms is by observing your nipple discharge.
Discharge from nipples could have a thick or watery consistency. The color could be green, white, brown, red, or clear. Cancerous discharge is usually clear or bloody.
Paget’s disease – a rare form of breast cancer that affects the dark skin around the nipples – also leads to abnormal discharges.
Again, they’re not all suspicious. For example, it’s completely natural to notice ooze after childbirth or breastfeeding.
Here are some breast cancer warning signs you should look out for:
- Bloody color
- If the liquid is oozing continuously
- The discharge is from one of the nipples
- You feel itchiness or discomfort around the nipple
3. Changes in Nipple Skin
Another symptom of breast cancer besides lumps is significant changes around the nipple skin.
You should know that the skin around the nipples isn’t exactly smooth. It’s rough and contains small white bumps.
Yes, they’re completely natural!
So the question is — what do breast cancer nipples look like?
You may notice sudden redness or irritation around nipples resembling eczema. The skin would be scaly and dry in texture. If the itchiness stays even after weeks, it’s time to get serious.
The skin around your nipples would also feel tender and sensitive. There may be a burning sensation or tingling.
Many women also experience pitted nipple skin, like an orange peel with many pores.
Lastly, a serious warning for breast cancer signs is that the color of your nipples would turn purple or red.
Read More: 15 Must-Follow Tips to Prevent Cancer
4. Changes in Breast Skin
Similarly, one of the tell-tale symptoms of 4th stage breast cancer is changes in your breast skin, but at times the signs may appear early on as well.
If the cancerous growth reaches the lining of ducts along the inner breast wall, you might notice visible changes in the bosom skin.
The breasts would feel sore, warm, and sensitive to touch. The skin would exhibit rashes, redness, and dark patches and become thicker.
Generally, the breasts would have a flaky and dry appearance.
Similar to nipples, you might notice visible pores all along the skin. Mostly it only appears on one breast.
If you notice any of these breast cancer warning signs, get yourself checked ASAP.
5. Inverted Nipples
Inverted nipples are an alarming sign of breast cancer on nipples that you should never ignore.
If both or just one of the nipples suddenly turn inward, it’s a sign of breast cancer development. As the cancerous growth or tumors scar the tissues, they lose their original shape.
It’s often accompanied by other changes around the skin and maybe some lumps.
Some women naturally have retracted nipples. But if this is new to you, visit a doctor.
6. Misshaped Breasts
One of the biggest signs of breast cancer in women is changes in the shape of breasts.
Although many women have naturally misshaped breasts, these changes would be quite different, and noticeable, and occur in one breast at a time.
You might notice that your boobs are either swelling or shrinking in size. A shrunken bosom is a warning sign of breast cancer and means a tumor is growing that needs your attention.
Other times, breast cancer can cause swelling all over the chest. You may notice one breast is visibly bigger.
The affected breasts would also feel tender and warm and look red. There may also be nipple changes and discharge. The skin might look like an orange peel and scaly.
7. Swelling in Armpits or Collarbone
Swollen armpits and upper body parts, such as the collarbone, are also among the first signs of breast cancer spreading to lymph nodes.
This usually occurs when the cancerous growth has reached the adjoining lymphatic system responsible for waste drainage. As a result, you might also feel lumps in these regions.
You must get instant treatment at this point as the risk of breast cancer spreading to nearby organs is quite high.
Note: Lymphoedema is a condition that causes swollen arms after cancer treatment. It leads to fluid accumulation in the tissues and enlarges the hand, arm, or fingers.
8. Upper Body Pain
If you’re feeling persistent pain in the neck, shoulder, and around the upper back, they might be warning signs of breast cancer.
Usually, backaches are caused by exhaustion or overwork. But if you have tried changing posture or physical therapy, it could be a sign that breast cancer has spread to bones.
Cancerous cell growth that spreads to tissues in these areas can cause serious pain. Best to get screened for tumors at this stage.
9. Sore Breasts
Last but not least, some women also experience breast pain and tenderness. A sore bosom caused by breast cancer would also show many other symptoms mentioned earlier.
Breast cancer pain feels like a sudden sharp ache in one spot or pain in the entire chest. The swelling and inflammation may also cause discomfort.
Hope this article gives you a clear understanding of the several early symptoms of breast cancer you should know about.
Don’t ignore these warning signs of breast cancer; get yourself checked ASAP! Also, make sure you do a monthly self-exam of your girls to ensure everything’s fine.