What Are The Common Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
The following early signs and symptoms of breast cancer can happen with other conditions that are not cancer related.
- New lump in the breast or underarm
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area of the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
When Do Signs And Symptoms First Appear
Typically, cancer signs and symptoms first appear when the cancerous tumor or mass has grown large enough that it begins to push against nearby organs and tissue, blood vessels, and nerves.
This can lead to pain, a change in how the nearby organs function, or both. A brain tumor pressing against the optic nerve will affect vision, for example.
Some cancers are fast moving, such as liver and pancreatic cancers. Prostate cancer, however, is usually slow moving. This is why many older men with prostate cancer forego treatment theyre more likely to die with prostate cancer than because of it.
Screenings for certain cancers should be part of your normal preventive healthcare. These include cancers of the:
Your age, sex, family history, and your own medical history will dictate when routine screenings should begin and how often they should be done.
If youre concerned about symptoms associated with various cancers, then you shouldnt hesitate to see your doctor. You can connect to a physician in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.
What Can I Expect At My Doctors Appointment
Make an appointment with your primary care doctor or gynecologist. Tell your doctor about the new spot youve identified and the symptoms you feel. Your doctor will likely conduct a full breast exam and may also check nearby spots, including your collarbone, neck, and armpit areas.
Based on what they feel, your doctor may order additional testing, such as a mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy.
Your doctor may also suggest a period of watchful waiting. During this time, you and your doctor will continue to monitor the lump for any changes or growth. If theres any growth, your doctor should begin testing to rule out cancer.
Be honest with your doctor about your concerns. If your personal or family history puts you at a higher risk of having breast cancer, you may want to move forward with the appropriate diagnostic testing so you can know for sure if your breast lump is cancer or something else.
Certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing breast cancer. Some risk factors cant be changed others may be reduced or even eliminated based on your lifestyle choices.
The most significant breast cancer risk factors include:
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Treatments To Reduce Your Risk
If you have a greatly increased risk of developing breast cancer, for example, a BRCA gene carrier, treatment might be available to reduce your risk. This applies to a very small minority of women.
Your level of risk is determined by factors such as your age, your family’s medical history, and the results of genetic tests.
You will usually be referred to a specialist genetics service if it’s thought you have a significantly increased risk of breast cancer. Healthcare professionals working at these services might discuss treatment options with you.
The 2 main treatments are surgery to remove the breasts or medication. These are described in more detail below.
‘my Dog Found My Cancer’
I had just been to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up and breast exam, and got the ‘all okay.’ Soon after, my little dog Zoe climbed up on me and started pawing at a specific part of my breast. Little alarms went off in my head, telling me to pay attention. It was like a slow-motion movie. I pushed her off and thats when I found a little round BB-sized lump. After a mammogram that didnt show anything, and a sonogram that found the lump, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Its so important to listen to the messages our bodies are telling us.
Christine Egan, author of The Healthy Girls Guide to Breast Cancer, Bayport, New York
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Most Breast Pain Is Benign
Breast pain, or mastalgia, is uncommon with breast cancer. Most of the time, breast pain happens along with your menstrual cycle, but it can also be linked to benign non-hormonal causes. Other benign conditions which can cause breast pain include breast cysts, fibroadenomas or blocked milk ducts, but even though the pain with these conditions can be very annoying, it is not usually dangerous.
Are There Early Signs Of Breast Cancer
As with other types of cancer, breast cancer is most responsive to treatment when diagnosed in its early stages. Breast cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its early stages, but it may cause signs that every woman should be aware of.
The first thing you should know about the early signs of breast cancer is that they can vary from person to person, so something that could indicate breast cancer in one person may not be a sign of cancer in another. The signs and symptoms may also vary between the different types of breast cancer. Also, some people do not experience any signs of breast cancer when the condition is in its early stages.
Because breast cancer does not cause many physical symptoms in its early stages, mammograms are the number one way to detect the condition. Having a mammogram can also provide answers, so you dont have to guess about the significance of any signs or symptoms you may be experiencing.
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There’s Dimpling On Your Breast Skin
Noticing some dimpling in the skin of one of your breasts might not seem like a big deal, but it could be a sign of breast cancer, says the Mayo Clinic. The issuewhich is called peau d’ orange, due to its resemblance of the texture of an orange peelcould be a sign of a more invasive type of breast cancer.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
- Add exercise into your routine
- Limit alcohol
- Limit postmenopausal hormone use
- Breastfeed if possible
Cancer doesnt discriminate. Some women are genetically predisposed to the disease. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no risk factors other than being female. Many lead healthy lives and have no symptoms until a mammogram detects an abnormality. Others find an unfamiliar change in the breast and seek care.
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A Lump In Your Breast Or Underarm
A lump in your breast or underarm is often the first noticeable sign of breast cancer. There could also be swelling in addition to, or instead of, the lump.
What does a breast lump feel like?
Most often, breast lumps feel hard, like a knot. But a lump may also feel like part of your breast has become thicker than the tissue around it.
Do breast cancer lumps or benign breast lumps hurt?
Some breast lumps can be painful, yes although most dont cause pain. If a lump does cause pain, it doesnt necessarily mean its cancerous. Cysts and fibrocystic breasts can sometimes cause pain without being cancerous.
If youve been having breast pain and youre not sure whats causing it, dont wait too long to have it checked.
Are there other causes of breast lumps besides cancer?
Yes. Not all breast lumps are cancerous. Breast cysts and fibroadenomas are two common types of benign breast lumps that women experience.
Other conditions such as fat necrosis or infection can present themselves as lumps, too. This is why its important to talk with a doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your breast health.
Questions or concerns about your breast health? Were here for you.
Why Its Important To Catch Cancer Early
For some cancers that are screened for on a regular basis, survival rates tend to be high. Thats because theyre often diagnosed early on, before symptoms develop.
The 5-year survival rate for people with localized breast or prostate cancer is nearly 100 percent. And when diagnosed early, melanoma has about a 99 percent 5-year survival rate.
But catching some cancers early is difficult. There are no regular screening guidelines for some cancers, and symptoms may not show up until the cancer is in its advanced stages.
To help protect yourself from these cancers:
- Be sure to keep up with your regular blood work and annual physicals.
- Report any new symptoms to your doctor, even if they seem minor.
- Talk with your doctor about testing if you have a family history of a particular type of cancer.
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Getting A Breast Biopsy
In a breast biopsy, the doctor takes out small pieces of breast tissue to check them for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if you have breast cancer.
There are many types of biopsies. Ask your doctor what kind you will need. Each type has risks and benefits. The choice of which type to use depends on your own case.
Sometimes, surgery is needed to take out all or part of the lump to find out if its cancer. This is often done in a hospital using local anesthesia . You might also be given medicine to make you sleepy.
After Your Treatment For Breast Cancer
When your primary treatment ends, you shake hands with your oncologist and wave goodbye to your nurses. What happens next? You may still be taking hormone therapy and going for follow-up visits, but how are you feeling now?
Good communication with your healthcare team can help you move forward with the collection of emotions that accompany survivorship, including:
- Fear of recurrence
- “Will my cancer return?”
- “Will it spread?”
- “Is that pain I’m feeling just a pulled muscle or could it be my cancer has returnedis it my old enemy, breast cancer?”
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Change In Size Shape Or Feel Of Your Breast
A cancer might cause your breast to look bigger or have a different shape than usual, it might feel different.
Many healthy women find that their breasts feel lumpy and tender just before their period.
It can help to be breast aware. This means getting to know the size, shape and feel of your breasts.
Change In Size Or Shape
- Have your breasts changed in size?
- Have your breasts changed in shape?
Never ignore a change to your breast, nipple or the skin near your breasts. If you notice any of these changes when youre showering or getting dressed, or if your partner notices something different on or around your breasts, its a good idea to get checked out by a doctor right away.
While a lump, discharge, or any other change to your breast may be no big deal, consulting with your doctor is the only way to be sure. If the change does turn out to be a big deal, its best to find out as soon as you can.
Susan G. Komen® offers more information onwhat to do if you find a lump and questions to ask your health care provider if you find a lump or change.
Knowing your normal, paying attention to changes, and getting checked out if you notice something is a crucial part of breast healthbut its not enough on its own. Heres everything you should know to take charge of your breast health.
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What Do You Feel When You Have Breast Cancer
It is possible for breast cancer to be present without a woman being able to feel anything, either by physical examination or by a sensation of pain.
In performing breast self examination, you are looking for any thickening or lumpy mass in your breast or underarm tissue, a warmer than usual area, or skin abnormality such as scaliness. Report anything not usual for you, and particularly any hard lumps. Certain types of cancers or those in certain positions may not be felt at all, so it is important to still have yearly doctor checkups and regular mammograms if you are over the age of 40 or at high risk. Before this age, have three-yearly examinations by a doctor. In addition, there are visual indicators to look for. See the Web Links to the left for more information on breast self- examination.
Regarding other aspects of what Breast cancer feels like, pain is generally not a major factor in the early stages of the illness. It is only later that it usually becomes an issue, when it spreads to the bones or other organs.
Can You Have Breast Cancer With No Visible Symptoms
Yes. Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer say they didnt notice any symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screenings are so strongly advised.
We recommend that women consider starting annual screening mammograms at age 40. But depending on your risk factors, overall health and personal preferences, you and your doctor can work together to decide whether screenings should begin earlier, later or at different intervals.
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Tests To Determine Specific Types Of Treatment
You’ll also need tests that show whether the cancer will respond to specific types of treatment. The results of these tests can give your doctors a more complete picture of the type of cancer you have and how best to treat it. The types of test you could be offered are discussed below.
In some cases, breast cancer cells can be stimulated to grow by hormones that occur naturally in your body, such as oestrogen and progesterone.
If this is the case, the cancer may be treated by stopping the effects of the hormones, or by lowering the level of these hormones in your body. This is known as “hormone therapy”.
During a hormone receptor test, a sample of cancer cells will be taken from your breast and tested to see if they respond to either oestrogen or progesterone. If the hormone is able to attach to the cancer cells , they’re known as “hormone receptor positive”.
While hormones can encourage the growth of some types of breast cancer, other types are stimulated by a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 .
These types of cancer can be diagnosed using a HER2 test, and treated with medication to block the effects of HER2. This is known as “biological” or “targeted” therapy.
Your Armpit Lymph Nodes Are Swollen
Most people are always looking for bumps in their breasts, but don’t forget to check your lymph nodes for swelling, too. “Many patients who end up diagnosed with breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes have no symptoms in the breast, no changes in the structure of the breast, but they come in for a consult because they feel something under their arm,” says Alvarez. “This may mean that cancer from the breast has traveled to the lymph nodes, and now there is lymph node invasion.”
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What Is Breast Density
Breast density reflects the amount of fibrous and glandular tissue in a womans breasts compared with the amount of fatty tissue in the breasts, as seen on a mammogram.
On a mammography report, breast density is assigned to one of the following four categories
- The breasts are almost entirely fatty .
- A few areas of dense tissue are scattered through the breasts .
- The breasts are evenly dense throughout .
- The breasts are extremely dense .
Women in the first two categories are said to have low-density, non-dense, or fatty breasts. Women in the second two categories are said to have high-density or dense breasts. About half of women who are 40 years old or older have dense breasts.
Statistics On Breast Cancer & Pain
A breast tumora hard clump of breast cancer cellsusually doesn’t usually cause breast pain unless it reaches the size of two centimeters in diameter or greater. But a tumor can be larger than two centimeters and still not cause pain.
In fact,only about 5% to 15% of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer complain of breast pain. Only 7% of those diagnosed with breast cancer seek a doctor because of breast pain, excluding other symptoms.
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Effects On Your Digestive System
Chemotherapy can affect your digestive system in different ways. Some people get constipated, other people have diarrhoea. Your hospital will have its own guidelines, but if you have four or more episodes of diarrhoea within 24 hours contact you GP or treatment team. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Some chemotherapy drugs can make indigestion more likely. Some may also cause heartburn, which is a burning feeling in the lower chest.
Let your chemotherapy team know if you have any of these side effects. They can prescribe medication to help and can give you information about diet. You can also be referred to a dietitian if necessary.
Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented
Unfortunately, there isnt a way to prevent breast cancer completely. However, lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight and lowering alcohol consumption can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
If you are at high risk of developing breast cancer, your doctor may suggest hormone treatments , or a pre-emptive mastectomy.
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