Doing a breast self-examination and noticing a lump can be quite scary for any woman.
Remember not to panic. Not all lumps are cancerous but it is important to get every lump tested. You cannot afford to ignore any early signs that remotely resemble breast cancer symptoms because early diagnosis can help in the treatment. India, China and the USA jointly account for 33% of the global cases of breast cancer. Late detection of breast cancer increases death rates making it one of the dreaded killers that afflict women worldwide. Those with a history of breast cancer in their families are at a higher risk of contracting the disease and need to get a regular mammogram done.
Let us explore if there are some early warning signs of breast cancer that women can watch out for to get a headstart in the race against this killer.
- Inspect your breast regularly for lumps
- Watch out for swellings under your arm
- Changes in the shape of your breast
- Irritation in your nipples
- Discharges other than breast milk
- Pain or tenderness in your breast
- Change in the size of your breast
Inspect your breast regularly for lumps - Self-examination of breasts at regular intervals is a must. It is important to check for painless lumps and get a mammogram done if you detect anything suspicious. If they are painful to touch, they may be benign fluid cysts. If the lump is painful, it is most likely not cancer but you will need a test to confirm that. If the lump stays after your periods, you should definitely seek a medical opinion. Either way, it is important to confirm by getting a mammogram done. Never ignore a breast lump. It is always better to get it tested.
Watch out for swellings under your arm - If you sense a sudden hardening of the lymph nodes under your arm or in your neck area, it may be an early symptom of breast cancer. Swelling of the lymph nodes may be an indication of the spreading of breast cancer. Sometimes you may notice a swelling in the breast without any lumps.It is best to consult an oncologist and get a biopsy done
Changes in the shape of your breast - If you suddenly notice a change in the shape of your breast, do not ignore it. It could be a flattening or indentation or a dimpling of the skin or an asymmetric change in shape. It could be a single dimple that is pulling the skin inwards. It could also appear with thickened skin that could appear like dimples on an orange peel. This could be a case of inflammatory breast cancer. This is a highly visible sign and should not be ignored. Any of these changes should be shown to a doctor because it could be an early symptom of breast cancer.
Irritation in your nipples - You should be consulting an oncologist if you notice
- Retracted nipples
- Burning or itching sensation
- Dimple on the nipple
- Scaly or red-colored rashes
These could be indicators of breast cancer and should not be neglected.
Discharges other than breast milk - If you notice any abnormal clear or bloody discharges from the nipple, it is time to get yourself checked to rule out breast cancer.It could occur without squeezing the breast or only on one breast.
Pain or tenderness in your breast - If you experience any pain or tenderness while you are examining your breasts, you should not ignore the same. It is normal for women to experience breast pain around their periods due to hormonal activity. However, it needs to be addressed if it lasts for more than a couple of weeks. It is prudent to get a mammogram done.
The visible change in the breast - If you notice any variation in temperature, texture or contour of the breast, you must get a medical opinion. The breast could have a pitted texture like the exterior of an orange. There could be a marble-like area under the skin or a visible change in some areas. Red, flaky, warm or thickened skin could be a sign of mastitis which is a common infection during breastfeeding. It could also be a sign of breast cancer so you will need a test to confirm either way.
What should you do if you notice the signs?
Do not panic or jump to any conclusions if you notice any of these signs in isolation. You will need to get them confirmed through a test prescribed by your doctor. Stay calm and keep your wits about you. While you cannot control the result, an early diagnosis will help you to start the treatment faster and it could save your life. That is why it is so essential to spread awareness about breast cancer and understand the importance of early detection. If you notice any of the warning signs mentioned above, do not hesitate to visit the doctor immediately. After a visual and clinical examination, the doctor will prescribe further tests like a mammogram, ultrasound, breast MRI or a biopsy.
Apart from self-checks, if you are over the age of 40, you should be taking a mammogram once a year to rule out breast cancer. Women over the age of 70 years can do the test once every two years.
Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among women globally accounting for 25% of the cancer cases and is one of the leading causes of death in women. If breast cancer is detected early the damage can be limited and treatment is faster. When detected at an advanced stage, it would have spread outside the breast area via the blood cells and lymph vessels. In some cases of very late detection, breast cancer has the scope to metastasize and affect other parts of the body like lungs, bones, or brain.
Survival rates for breast cancer are high provided it is detected early and proper treatment is available. Unfortunately in poor countries, over 50-80% of breast cancer cases are detected at an advanced stage which makes treatment difficult and expensive leading to more fatalities.
To ensure effective treatment, early detection is a must for which spreading awareness about breast cancer is essential. In fact, breast cancer awareness needs to start at the school level when girls hit puberty. Self-examination of breasts to check for breast cancer needs to be inculcated as a regular habit for every female. Being aware of the early signs and watching out for them is the best way to be prepared. You can’t prevent breast cancer but you can beat it by treating it early.
Get your diagnostic tests done as soon as you notice any change in your breast. Early detection could make all the difference between life and death. Be wise and wary for your life is literally in your hands