Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
It is important to see your GP if you have any of the following symptoms or notice anything that is unusual for you.
Possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer can include:
- a lump in the breast
- thickening of the skin or tissue of the breast, or dimpling of the skin of the breast
- a lump or swelling in either armpit
- a change in the shape or size of the breast, such as swelling in all or part of the breast
- a nipple turning in
- a rash on the nipple
- discharge or bleeding from the nipple
- pain or discomfort in the breast that does not go away, but this is rare.
A lump in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer, but most breast lumps are not cancer. They are usually lumps either filled with fluid or made up of fibrous and glandular tissue .
But it is very important to get any of these symptoms or anything else that is unusual for you checked by your GP.
The earlier you get a diagnosis and start treatment, the more successful treatment is likely to be..
During pregnancy, a womans breast tissue changes. Sometimes a lump or another breast cancer symptom could be confused with this. If you are pregnant and have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor. Your symptoms should be checked in the same way as in women who are not pregnant.
We understand that showing any symptoms of what could be cancer is worrying. The most important thing is to speak to your GP as soon as possible. We’re also here if you need someone to talk to. You can:
What Other Conditions Can Cause Nipple Changes
Some women naturally have inverted nipples. If your nipples were always inverted, theres no need to worry, but if theyve recently retracted, call your doctor.
An infection of the mammary ducts called mammary duct ectasia can also change your nipple orientation. This condition commonly affects women over age 50.
A milky nipple discharge is perfectly normal if youve recently given birth or if youre breastfeeding.
Even if youre not pregnant or nursing, nipple discharge is usually a sign of a benign condition, such as:
- an underactive thyroid gland
- sores that dont heal
- change in skin color
- visible veins in the breast, which can be a sign of increased blood flow to the cancer
Skin changes arent necessarily cancer, but they can sometimes warn of a rare type of breast cancer, like Paget disease or inflammatory breast cancer. Let your doctor know if your skin doesnt go back to its normal appearance within a few days.
A few other skin conditions can affect your breasts, including:
- skin infections
Skin changes such as rashes and skin infections should clear up within a few days. If they dont go away, have your doctor take a look.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated
If the tests find cancer, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan to eradicate the breast cancer, to reduce the chance of cancer returning in the breast, as well as to reduce the chance of the cancer traveling to a location outside of the breast. Treatment generally follows within a few weeks after the diagnosis.
The type of treatment recommended will depend on the size and location of the tumor in the breast, the results of lab tests done on the cancer cells, and the stage, or extent, of the disease. Your doctor will usually consider your age and general health as well as your feelings about the treatment options.
Breast cancer treatments are local or systemic. Local treatments are used to remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a specific area, such as the breast. Surgery and radiation treatment are local treatments. Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are systemic treatments. A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on her individual diagnosis.
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How Do Tamoxifen Raloxifene Anastrozole And Exemestane Reduce The Risk Of Breast Cancer
If you are at increased risk for developing breast cancer, four medications tamoxifen , raloxifene , anastrozole , and exemestane may help reduce your risk of developing this disease. These medications act only to reduce the risk of a specific type of breast cancer called estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. This type of breast cancer accounts for about two-thirds of all breast cancers.
Tamoxifen and raloxifene are in a class of drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators . These drugs work by blocking the effects of estrogen in breast tissue by attaching to estrogen receptors in breast cells. Because SERMs bind to receptors, estrogen is blocked from binding. Estrogen is the fuel that makes most breast cancer cells grow. Blocking estrogen prevents estrogen from triggering the development of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.
Anastrozole and exemestane are in a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors . These drugs work by blocking the production of estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors do this by blocking the activity of an enzyme called aromatase, which is needed to make estrogen.
Specific Signs Of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
This is a rare but aggressive type of cancer that can appear differently to other types.
- inversion of the nipple
- swollen lymph nodes in the collarbone or underarm area
Inflammatory breast cancer tends to occur at a younger age than other types of cancer. Doctors sometimes misdiagnose it because it can resemble an infection, trauma, or another problem.
The same warning signs that occur with cancer can also signify other benign conditions. It is therefore important to know how to recognize which signs might indicate the presence of cancer and which do not.
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Signs & Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
Young adults CAN and DO get breast cancer. When it comes to breast cancer symptoms and signs of the disease, you are looking for more than just a lump. Breast cancer statistics show that nearly 80% of young adults find their abnormality themselves. So it’s important to get familiar with your breasts and aware of the signs and symptoms. Tell your doctor right away if you notice any changes in your breasts.
Symptoms to Look Out for Include:
- A lump or unusual thickening in the breast or underarm area
- A change in color or rash on the skin of the breast
- Unusual nipple discharge
- Swelling of all or part of the breast
- A change in size or shape of the breast
- Itchy, sore or scaling of the nipple
- Dimpling on breast skin or nipple turning inward
- Breast or nipple pain that does not go away
Consult your physician if you experience any of the above symptoms of breast cancer. If your concern is not taken seriously, you may have to insist on discussing whether further testing is appropriate in order to rule out a breast cancer diagnosis.
Types Of Cancers That Are More Likely To Go Undetected
Some cancers are more easily detected than others. For example, certain types of skin cancer can be diagnosed initially just by visual inspection though a biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
But other cancers can form and grow undetected for 10 years or more, as one study found, making diagnosis and treatment that much more difficult.
This table provides an overview of common cancers that often display little or no symptoms early on, and how theyre typically detected and diagnosed:
|Type of cancer|
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Breast Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
Most breast cancer symptoms are discovered by women during regular dailyactivities like bathing. Knowing how your breasts look and feel, andbeing alert for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, like a lump,can help you detect the disease early, when it’s easiest to treat.
Most breast changes are due to hormonal cycles or conditions that are less worrying than breast cancer. However, if you experience any of the following breast cancer symptoms, even if they seem mild, see your doctor.
- A lump in the breast or armpit is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Patients often describe this as a ball or a nodule. Lumps may feel soft and rubbery or hard. Unless you have small breasts or the lump is very large, you probably wont be able to see it.
- Skin redness
- Nipple changes, including the nipple turning inward, pulling to one side or changing direction
- Ulcer on the breast or nipple
- Thickening of the skin, resulting in an orange-peel texture
Though rare, men can also get breast cancer. The most common symptoms of male breast cancer are a lump, discharge or dimpling.
Does Breast Cancer Affect Women Of All Races Equally
All women, especially as they age, are at some risk for developing breast cancer. The risks for breast cancer in general arent evenly spread among ethnic groups, and the risk varies among ethnic groups for different types of breast cancer. Breast cancer mortality rates in the United States have declined by 40% since 1989, but disparities persist and are widening between non-Hispanic Black women and non-Hispanic white women.
Statistics show that, overall, non-Hispanic white women have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer than women of any other race/ethnicity. The incidence rate for non-Hispanic Black women is almost as high.
Non-Hispanic Black women in the U.S. have a 39% higher risk of dying from breast cancer at any age. They are twice as likely to get triple-negative breast cancer as white women. This type of cancer is especially aggressive and difficult to treat. However, it’s really among women with hormone positive disease where Black women have worse clinical outcomes despite comparable systemic therapy. Non-Hispanic Black women are less likely to receive standard treatments. Additionally, there is increasing data on discontinuation of adjuvant hormonal therapy by those who are poor and underinsured.
In women under the age of 45, breast cancer is found more often in non-Hispanic Black women than in non-Hispanic white women.
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What Should I Do If I Find A Breast Lump
See your doctor if you discover any new breast changes, such as:
- An area thats clearly different from any other area on either breast
- A lump or thickened area in or near the breast or underarm that lasts through your menstrual cycle
- A change in breast size, shape, or contour
- A mass or lump. It could be as small as a pea or feel like a marble under your skin.
- A change in how the skin on your breast or nipple looks or feels. It could be dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed.
- Clear or bloody fluid coming out of the nipple
- Red skin on your breast or nipple
Tests At The Breast Cancer Clinic
If you have suspected breast cancer you’ll be referred to a specialist breast cancer clinic for further tests. This referral will be because of your symptoms or because your mammogram has shown an abnormality,
Mammogram and breast ultrasound
If you have symptoms and have been referred to a specialist breast unit by your GP, you’ll probably be invited to have a mammogram if you are over 35 years old. This is an X-ray of your breasts. You may also need an ultrasound scan.
If your cancer was detected through the BreastCheck screening programme, you may need another mammogram or ultrasound scan.
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breasts. It helps to determine the nature of a lump or of the abnormality. It may be needed to find out if a lump in your breast is solid or contains liquid.
Your breasts are made up of thousands of tiny glands that produce milk. This glandular tissue contains a higher concentration of breast cells than other breast tissue, making it denser.
Dense breast tissue can make a mammogram difficult to read. Lumps or areas of abnormal tissue are harder to spot.
Younger women tend to have denser breasts. This is why mammography is not routinely performed in women under 35 years. As you get older, the amount of glandular tissue in your breasts decreases and is replaced by fat. This means your breasts become less dense.
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Symptoms Of Angiosarcoma Of The Breast
Another rare form of breast cancer, angiosarcoma forms inside the lymph and blood vessels. Only a biopsy may definitively diagnose this type of cancer. Angiosarcoma can cause changes to the skin of your breast, such as the development of purple-colored nodules that resemble a bruise. These nodules, if bumped or scratched, may bleed. Over time, these discolored areas may expand, making your skin appear swollen in that area. You may or may not have breast lumps with angiosarcoma. If you also have lymphedema, which is swelling caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid, angiosarcoma may occur in the affected arm. Cancer treatment sometimes damages the lymph vessels, which may lead to lymphedema.
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Symptoms Of A Breast Infection
A rash could be a symptom of a breast infection, too. Bacterial breast infections typically involve the fatty tissue in the breast, Dr. Ley states. Swelling, localized pain, redness, and fever are the most common symptoms of a bacterial infection. Idiopathic granulomatous mastitis and Inflammatory breast cancer may mimic breast infection.
Inflammatory breast cancer must be distinguished from a benign breast infection known as mastitis.
Mastitis most commonly occurs in breastfeeding women, but may occasionally occur in women that are not breastfeeding, Dr. Gross states. It is often associated with warm and reddened skin around the nipple and may also be associated with thick white and foul-smelling nipple discharge.
Mastitis is often managed with steps to reduce pain and swelling such as over-the-counter painkillers and hot compresses. If an infection is suspected, then antibiotics can be used as well, Dr. Gross adds.
Does A Benign Breast Condition Mean That I Have A Higher Risk Of Getting Breast Cancer
Benign breast conditions rarely increase your risk of breast cancer. Some women have biopsies that show a condition called hyperplasia . This condition increases your risk only slightly.
When the biopsy shows hyperplasia and abnormal cells, which is a condition called atypical hyperplasia, your risk of breast cancer increases somewhat more. Atypical hyperplasia occurs in about 5% of benign breast biopsies.
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Signs Of Breast Cancer That Aren’t A Lump
For decades, the medical community and the media have waged an effective awareness campaign about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, educating the public about the importance of diligently monitoring their breasts for lumps. And the tactic has worked. Early detection has contributed to a 39 percent decline in breast cancer deaths in women from 1989 to 2015, according to the American Cancer Society. While thats an important step forward, many other abnormalities that may also indicate breast cancer are lesser known and discussed. Some, then, may be led to assume that no lump and no tumor mean no cancer, but that may be a dangerous conclusion to draw.
The majority of the publicity assigned to breast cancer is a lump, and the majority of patients might feel a mass in the breast, but there are definitely other symptoms besides a lump, says Ricardo H. Alvarez, MD, MSc, who leads the Breast Cancer Center Institute at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® . Visual changes may be especially key in helping detect breast cancer early.
You can see a lot of things just by looking at your breasts in the mirror. When your arms are by your side, you don’t always see everything. Put your hands on your hips or raise them up. Having arms in two different positions while looking is also helpful.– Cynthia Lynch, MD, Medical Oncologist at our hospital near Phoenix
What You Should Do Next
If you notice any unusual symptoms or unexpected changes in your nipples or breasts, consult your doctor. Be sure to mention any family history of cancer, as this may affect your risk level.
If you do have cancer, catching it early will give you a good chance of successfully treating it.
Your symptoms may also be a sign of another underlying condition. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of treatment and care.
No matter the cause, you should get in the habit of regularly checking your breasts for any changes like lumps, swelling, or discoloration. If you notice anything different, make an appointment with your doctor.
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