Certain changes in the breast can be warning signs of breast cancer. Knowing what these changes look like can help people access the right treatment as soon as possible.
Understanding the different parts of the breast and their function can help people be more alert to any changes or abnormalities. This article looks at the warning signs of breast cancer, who is at risk, and what to do if you detect one or more of these signs.
Early signs of breast cancer
When most people think of breast cancer detection, they think of a lump in the breast. This is a possible warning sign, but it is not the only one. It may also not be the first to develop.
Here are other common signs of breast cancer:
– lumps inside the breast or armpit area
– changes in the size and shape of the breasts
– pain in a specific area that does not go away
– prominent veins on the surface of the breast
– nipple discharge that starts suddenly
– a sore or rash on the nipple
– swelling, redness or darkening of the breast
– padding of the skin of the breast
– inversion of the nipple or other parts of the breast.
That said, these same changes are often the result of benign breast conditions. They do not necessarily mean the presence of cancer. However, if a person notices these changes, they should see a doctor to be sure. There are different types of breast cancer, and they can affect individuals in different ways.
Specific signs of inflammatory breast cancer
It is a rare but aggressive type of cancer that can manifest differently from other types.
– a pink, red-purple appearance
– ridged or pitted skin
– in some cases, a palpable tumor
– a rapid increase in breast size
– heaviness and tenderness of the breast
– a burning sensation
– an inversion of the nipple
– swollen lymph nodes in the collarbone or armpit.
Inflammatory breast cancer tends to show up at a younger age than other types of cancer. This cancer may look like an infection, trauma, or other problem.
Is it cancer?
The same warning signs as those of cancer can also mean other benign conditions. It is therefore important to know how to recognize the signs that may indicate the presence of cancer and those that are not.
It is not unusual to have lumpy breasts, as breast tissue often has a bumpy texture. The lumps can vary greatly and are not always a sign of cancer, especially if the sensation is the same in both breasts.
However, a person should see their doctor if they find:
– changes in the texture of the breasts that are not due to the menstrual cycle
– a harder lump that looks different from the rest of the breast
– a lump that is not present in the other breast.
Lumps that are cancerous:
– usually have jagged edges
– are usually painless
– are generally hard
However, the lump can also be soft, rounded, and tender.
Women tend to seek medical attention when worried about a new lump. However, there may be no lump at all, or the lump may be too small to feel. In fact, a mammogram or other screening method may be the first sign of a lump. If the mammogram reveals a lump, the doctor may suggest further tests, such as an ultrasound or biopsy, to confirm the diagnosis.
Minor conditions that can lead to bumps or lumps include the following:
Fibroadenomas are made up of glandular and connective tissue. They are very common and are not cancerous. Most types do not increase the risk of breast cancer. Fibroadenomas can measure up to 2.5 cm in diameter and have a smooth, rubbery texture. They can also move under the skin.
Nipple discharge can result from the following:
– pressure on the nipples
– an infection
A person should see their doctor if they have:
– a discharge that occurs without having to squeeze the nipple
– a discharge in one breast and not in the other
– a discharge that contains blood
Whether or not the discharge is related to cancer, it may require treatment.
Normal changes in the breasts
Hormonal changes can occur at different stages of life, and they can lead to bumps, shape changes, and other changes that aren’t due to cancer. For example, puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can lead to breast changes due to varying levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body.
Some women are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. If they notice any of the above symptoms, they should make sure to seek medical attention.
Factors that increase the risk are:
– a personal history of breast cancer or a high-risk lesion
– genetic factors, such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation
– exposure to chest radiation during childhood
Each case is different. Knowing a personal or family history of breast cancer and discussing it with a doctor can help a person know what to look for.
What to do if you notice symptoms
Anyone who notices a change in their breast that develops without a clear cause should see a doctor, especially if the changes affect only one breast. In many cases, routine screening will reveal any significant changes. Breast cancer is very easy to treat if diagnosed at an early stage. Regular screening can help.
Breast anatomy and cancer risk
Knowing the different parts of the breast can help people understand how cancer forms and spreads.
A breast is made up of:
– body fat (adipose tissue)
– milk ducts
– lymph nodes
– blood vessels
The female breast is mostly made up of adipose tissue, or body fat. Adipose tissue extends from the collarbone to the armpit, then to the rib cage. Adipose tissue also contains nerve cells and blood vessels. It is important for the storage and release of energy.
Lobes, lobules and milk ducts
A female breast usually has 12 to 20 sections called lobes. Each of them is made up of smaller areas of mammary glands, called lobules. The milk ducts connect the lobes and lobules and carry milk to the nipple. Breast cancer is most likely to affect the lobes, lobules and milk ducts.
Lymphatic and vascular system
There is a lymphatic and vascular network inside the breast. The vascular system is made up of blood vessels, and the lymphatic system of lymph channels. These two systems work together to transport blood and fluids to and from the breast tissue to the rest of the body. If breast cancer enters these systems, it can spread throughout the body, increasing the chances of it spreading or recurring. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped clusters of cells found throughout the lymphatic system. These are immune cells that act as filters. They are the first place where breast cancer is likely to spread.
With current treatment options, a person diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage has a 99% chance of living at 5 years. To ensure early diagnosis, it is important to recognize any breast changes and report any concerns to your doctor. Most breast changes do not indicate cancer, but it is always worth checking.