Learn to Watch for These Easily Recognizable Early Signs of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States, following skin cancer. An estimated 276,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2020 alone. 1 in 8 women in the country will develop this invasive cancer within her lifetime. That is 12% of the nation’s adult female population.
Breast cancer can occur in both men and women. More than 2,600 men will be diagnosed in a single year. However, unsurprisingly, breast cancer is far more commonly identified in women. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reports that an estimated 42,170 women and 520 men will die from the disease by the end of 2020.
These staggering statistics only reinforce the importance of being vigilant and watching for easily recognizable signs of early breast cancer. Detecting this disease as early as possible can help you avoid worse symptoms and an illness that has already spread. What is the best way to watch for early breast cancer? According to the Mayo Clinic, breast awareness can’t prevent cancer but it sure can help you make sense of normal hormonal changes and be proactive in identifying more unusual symptoms. To become breast aware, practice self-exams on a regular basis. Women can inspect their breasts manually and note any new changes. If there are any sudden changes, lumps, or anything else that seems unusual, it is important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible. With any changes or lumps that may be found, a prompt and thorough medical evaluation is necessary even if you’ve recently had a mammogram.
The Canadian Cancer Society points out that it can be tricky to recognize some signs and symptoms of breast cancer in its earliest stages and emphasizes the need to be vigilant and aware of changes.
The American Cancer Society indicates that the most common symptom of breast cancer is recognizing a new lump. These masses are often painless and hard with irregular edges, but they can also be soft and round. Sometimes they are even painful. If you’ve found something concerning and aren’t sure what it might be, check with a health care professional, one who is ideally experienced with breast cancer patients.
It is important to remember that most breast lumps are not actually malignant, which means they are not cancer. Instead, most lumps actually turn out to be benign, according to the American Cancer Society. These non-cancerous tumors are not life-threatening and do not spread beyond the breast itself.
What are some normal changes that take place in the breast that do not need to necessarily cause undue worry? Typical changes are usually due to hormone variations. Breasts can change quite a lot throughout puberty, during the 40 weeks of pregnancy, while nursing, and throughout menopause. Estrogen and progesterone are hormones in the body that can affect the breasts.
So what are some specific early signs and symptoms of breast cancer to watch for, besides a lump? According to the Mayo Clinic, a hospital consistently ranked among the top medical facilities in the United States, the following signs can be areas of concern:
- the breast changes in size, shape or the way it looks
- the breast’s skin changes, and may look like dimpling
- the nipple of your breast begins to invert
- the areola, or the pigmented area immediately surrounding the nipple, starts to peel, becomes scaly, crusty or flaky
- the breast’s skin becomes red and pitted (The Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society indicate this might look like an orange peel.)
The American Cancer Society adds the following potential symptoms to watch for:
- finding a lump in the underarm area or around the collarbone where swollen lymph nodes can be found
- feeling pain that just won’t go away
- suddenly experiencing nipple discharge that is not related to breast milk
- the breast’s skin or nipple thickens
Finally, if you experience a sore or rash on the nipple, best to check in with your health care provider. If your breast begins to swell or the skin becomes red or darkens, an examination would be the best bet for your peace of mind. While none of these signs and symptoms necessarily indicate or confirm cancer, if any changes like these occur, these are the early recognizable signs that are important to take note of and follow up with your doctor about.