World Cancer Day is observed on 4th February every year to raise awareness about cancer.
According to the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR), there are around 1,62,486 new cases and 87, 090 deaths reported for breast cancer in India in the year 2018. Breast cancer is ranked as the leading cause of cancer in women with a mortality rate of 12.7% per 100000 women. Although breast cancer may not show symptoms in the early stage, knowing about any changes in the breast can help in the early detection and treatment of cancer. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer every woman needs to be aware of!
What are the common symptoms of breast cancer?
Every woman must know that what is normal for a woman might not be so for another woman. Some women might feel that the breasts have lumps or are uneven. A sharp pain in the breast or some tenderness near the breast area can be assumed as one of the key symptoms of breast cancer. Pain in the breast could be due to changes in the hormones during periods, use of birth control pills or a bra that fails to fit properly. Moreover, there are certain changes that happen in the breast as you age.
But certain changes should not be ignored as they could indicate an underlying breast cancer. This is the reason why every woman above 25 years of age or those with a family history of breast cancer are recommended to do a self-breast examination as it could indicate early changes that happen in the breasts. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
1. A lump in the breast: If you feel a lump or mass in the breast, it is wise to consult a doctor as it could be a symptom of underlying breast cancer. It is one of the warning signs of breast cancer. In most cases, the lumps are hard and painless, although in some cases it can cause painful lumps. However, not all lumps might indicate cancer. It could be a fibroid or cysts in the breast which are benign breast conditions that can cause lumps. Hence, consulting a doctor is a must to know the exact cause of the lumps and undergo proper tests for accurate diagnosis of the condition.
2. Swelling in and around the breast: If the area around the breast appears to be swollen or if there is a swelling in the armpit or collarbone, it might be a sign of breast cancer. The swelling of the breast is a sign of an inflammatory breast cancer, which is an aggressive form of the disease. The swelling in the armpits and collarbone is a sign that cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. It can happen even before you can feel a lump in the breast. So if you experience any change in the size and shape of the breast it is a sign to fix an appointment with your doctor at the earliest.
3. Changes in the nipples: In some cases, breast cancer can cause changes in the appearance of the nipples. If your nipple turns inward and not protrude outwards as seen normally, it might be a sign of breast cancer. Moreover, in some cases, there is a pain in the nipple area which should not be ignored. Any changes in the skin around the nipples such as redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer.
4. Discharge from the nipples: A nipple discharge is any fluid that leaks from one or both the nipples, which is common after childbirth. However, it can also happen during reproductive years and might be a sign of an injury, infection or benign tumor. But if there is a discharge from the nipples which is accompanied by dimpled skin, redness, swelling or pain in the breast, it is a sign of concern. If there is a discharge from only one breast without any stimulation, it is considered abnormal. Moreover, leaky breasts with bloody discharge might be a symptom of breast cancer which should be checked with a doctor.
5. Changes in the breast size and shape: If you feel a sudden increase in the breast size of either one or both the breast, it could be a sign of breast cancer. This is because an uncontrolled division of the cancerous cells in a specific area of the breast might cause a drastic change in the breast size. Also, any changes in the shape of the breast such as sagging of the breast or swelling that occurs only in a part of the breast should be checked right away. Any change in the contour, texture, or temperature of the breast is also a sign of breast cancer.
6. Redness or itchiness of the breast: If the skin of your breast looks like an orange peel or gets red or scaly or if there is an irritation or dimpling of breast skin, consult a doctor at the earliest as it might be a sign of breast cancer. Although it could be due to mastitis, an infection of the breasts caused due to bacteria. It is commonly seen in a breastfeeding woman. In such a case, your doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat the infection. But if the symptoms fail to subside even after a week, do not delay to visit a doctor and get it tested as it might be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, which grows quickly and should be detected early to prevent its progression.
7. Breast pain: Although in most cases, breast cancer does not cause any pain in the breast, it can be the key symptom in some. A breast pain is mostly seen in women especially during their menstrual cycle. It occurs around a week prior to menses and might subside within a day to two post periods. But if you experience a sudden pain in the breast or if the pain is not related to menses or doesn’t go away after menstruation, do consult a doctor to get it checked as it could be due to a breast cancer or any benign condition.
If you observe any changes in the breast or nipples, lumps in the armpit or feel breast pain or pain in the nipples do not ignore it as it could be one of the symptoms of breast cancer. And even if it doesn’t indicate cancer, it is important to identify the exact cause and get it treated.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
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