Most of us have been so well educated in exams and mammograms that we think they, alone, will warn us of any possible problems. But these methods aren’t foolproof. Many women have saved their own lives by being aware of cancer symptoms, and reporting any unusual sensations or concerns to their doctor.
Below are potential signs or symptoms of breast cancer. No need to be paranoid, as changes in your breasts are usually not related to cancer, but if you experience any of these, check with your doctor just to be safe. (From “Breast Cancer Symptoms” by Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D., and the Mayo Clinic.)
- Lumps or masses in the breast or underarm-these can be either painless and hard, with uneven edges, or tender, soft, and rounded.
- Pain or tenderness in the breast or nipple.
- Skin irritation or dimpling.
- Redness, scaliness, swollenness, or ridges.
- Thickening of the breast, nipple, or area around the nipple.
- Pitting (looks like an orange skin).
- Changes in the breast, like swelling, changes in how it looks or feels, changes in the size or shape, or changes in the nipple (e.g., it turns inward, thickens or produces a discharge).
Note: Studies show that women whose breasts became tender after taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had nearly twice the risk of developing breast cancer, so do not ignore tenderness, especially if you took HRT in the past.
If you do find a lump, try not to panic. Most breast lumps, according to the Mayo Clinic, are noncancerous-as many as four out of five that are biopsied. Other subtle changes may be normal as well, as the tissues can fluctuate as to their softness or hardness depending on your menstrual cycle. Breast tissue also becomes more fatty as you age. The biggest signal that you need to see your doctor is a change, one that seems to you unusual. If one breast has a lump that feels different from the other breast, for example, and if that lump doesn’t go away after your next period, or gets progressively larger.
Once you inform your doctor of your concerns, he/she will typically perform a breast exam and/or mammography to determine what is causing the issue. Even if you had a recent mammogram, if you find a lump or notice other changes in your breast, don’t be afraid to make another appointment. Remember that sometimes breast cancer shows no symptoms that you can see or feel, so don’t forget to schedule regular screenings.
Did you discover breast cancer through your own intuition? Please share your story.
Photo courtesy jrbett via Flickr.com.