During the month of October, you’ll be hearing a lot about breast cancer awareness, and you’ll see plenty of related advertisements on TV. Some of these may encourage you to get screened or help support ongoing breast cancer research. It’s not uncommon to feel a little overwhelmed by all of the information being presented to you during National Breast Cancer Month, so we wanted to keep things simple for this post.
Even if you don’t want to go in for a mammogram every year, it is important to be aware of the warning signs for breast cancer. Surely you have already been told thousands of times about how important it is to catch this disease as early as possible. If you ever discover any abnormality on the breast, then you should notify your doctor right away.
Regular Self-Breast Exams are Important
Most people who develop physical signs and symptoms may only notice one or two at first. Of course, the presence of these symptoms does not automatically mean that they have developed some form of breast cancer. Still, the main point is that it’s crucial to have a working knowledge of the signs and symptoms this type disease can produce beforehand.
This is also one of the reasons why breast cancer advocacy groups work to encourage more women to perform regular breast self-exams. By becoming more familiar with the natural shape and feel of your breasts, it’s more likely that you’ll notice when something has changed. Again, please don’t be shy about bringing up any breast-related concerns with your doctor.
Breast Self-Exam Checklist
Breast cancer can cause a change in how your breast or nipples feel, so be wary of any of the following:
- Unusual tenderness around the nipple
- Thickening tissue somewhere in or around the breast or underneath the arm
- The texture of the breast has changed or the pores in the skin have enlarged (skin of the breast can resemble the texture of an orange peel)
- A lump in the breast (Although they aren’t always cancerous, any lump should be reported to your doctor)
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any physical alterations in the look of your breasts. Any of the following could be caused by breast cancer:
- An unusual change in the shape or size of the breast
- Any dimpling on the breast
- The breast has swollen unexpectedly (certainly if it is only on one side)
- An unexplainable reduction in the size of the breast (certainly if it is only on one side)
- The breasts have recently become asymmetrical (it is not uncommon for women to have asymmetric breasts, but it’s a red flag if they change from symmetric to asymmetric)
- The nipple has become inverted or turned slightly inward
- Skin of the breast, nipple, or areola becomes red, scaly, or swollen (it may also develop some pitting or ridges resembling the skin of an orange)
An unusual discharge from the nipples could also be a warning sign for breast cancer, and should not be avoided. This would especially include any clear or bloody colored discharge. Obviously, women who are with child or new mothers should expect some milky discharge. However, it would be something to get checked out with your doctor if it occurs at random.
Symptoms Do Not Equal Cancer
Fortunately, the presence of these symptoms are most often not the result of cancer. With that said, you’ll want to inform your doctor as soon as possible if you have noticed any breast cancer symptoms. They should be able to diagnose the issue and take appropriate action as necessary.
In some cases, breast cancer may not produce any noticeable warning signs, which is why annual screenings are so important. Additionally, your doctor can examine you for breast cancer prior to symptom manifestation. They will review your family medical history and perform a thorough physical examination during your office visit. If necessary, they may also request one or more imaging tests, such as a mammogram.