Breast Cancer Symptoms
Catching Breast Cancer Early
Most women are taught from the time they begin visiting the gynecologist to do monthly breast self-exams. But what are some of the things to be looking for? How are your breasts supposed to look and feel? The answers to these questions are different for every woman. Some women have denser breasts; some women have breasts that may normally feel lumpy. The key is to be aware of what is normal for you and report any changes to your doctor.
Not all signs necessarily mean that you have breast cancer, and more importantly, not all breast cancers show signs or symptoms, so it’s important to have your breasts examined by your doctor regularly. Beginning at age 20, do monthly breast self-exams and have a breast exam by your doctor every 3 years. Once you reach the age of 40, have the clinical exams annually as well as annual screening mammograms.
There are a number of screening tests that can help detect breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages, as well as tests that confirm whether a suspicious lump is cancer. See when you should get these tests here.
Changes that should be reported to your doctor include:
- Change in size or shape of the breast
- Change in skin texture – if the skin becomes scaly or red or the pores on the breast are enlarged (some liken this to the texture of an orange peel)
- Swelling or shrinkage of the breast
- Dimpling of the breast
- Discharge from the breast when you’re not breast-feeding
- Inverted nipple
- Lump or thickening around the breast or underarm
- Tenderness or pain, especially in one spot that won’t go away
It’s especially important that women who have recently given birth do not ignore these symptoms as pregnancy-related cancer can be particularly aggressive.
What if you do find a lump? Lumps are common and many women report lumps that go away after their next period. If it doesn’t go away, the first step is to make an appointment with your primary care doctor who may recommend a test to check whether the lump is cancerous. Some tests include mammography, ultrasound, MRI or a biopsy.