Breast Cancer Symptoms

Breast cancer often goes undetected because symptoms may not appear until the cancer is advanced. Because of this, women should have routine screenings, such as mammograms, and conduct self-exams on a regular basis.

Symptoms of breast cancer can be different in each woman. A woman may experience any number of symptoms, such as lumps in the breast, swelling, a rash or skin changes. It is also possible to have no symptoms at all. Some of these symptoms can also signal other conditions, many less serious than breast cancer.

There are, however, a number of signs that may appear and should signal the need for medical attention:

Breast pain

Breast pain in itself does not necessarily indicate a reason to seek medical attention, especially if you are experiencing breast pain in both breasts. If there is pain in one breast, or if the pain is persistent or continues to increase, you should speak to your doctor.

Cysts

Many women develop cysts in their breast and this does not necessarily indicate breast cancer nor does it raise the risk for cancer. However, if cysts begin to change or increase in size, you should consult your doctor. Cysts can make it difficult to do a self-exam and because of this, women with cysts may be referred to mammograms more often than those without.

Rash

Paget's disease is a type of breast cancer that begins with a rash on nipples or breast. If a rash is persistent or comes back after treatment, it could be a sign of Paget's disease and should be treated. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy. When Paget's disease is caught and treated early, there is a good chance of complete recovery.

Nipple Discharge

Nipple discharge can be normal. Signs that should be seen by a doctor include nipple discharge that contains blood, nipple discharge from only one breast, nipple discharge that is new or unexplainable.

Lumps

Lumps sometimes appear as part of the menstrual cycle. This is considered fibrocystic change and may appear a few days before your period begins and disappear after your period ends. These lumps may also appear more often during peri-menopause.

Lumps that occur in a specific area of the breast or become larger or more painful should be seen by a doctor. Lumps can occur in the breast or in the armpit. In addition to lumps, if your breast changes in size or appearance, you should contact your doctor. Further evaluation, such as a mammogram, biopsy or removal of fluid will probably be recommended.

There are some other, non-cancerous, conditions that may cause some of these symptoms. Pregnancy or menstrual cycles can cause swelling, pain or discomfort of the breasts as well as discharge. In addition, fibrocystic changes, cysts, infection, injury or fibroadenomas can cause changes in the breasts. These conditions are benign, however, if you have any concerns or symptoms are persistent, the best course of action would be to see a doctor.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or if you have any concerns or questions about symptoms you may be experiencing, contact your doctor. There is a higher recovery rate when breast cancer is found and treated early. Annual mammograms and self-examinations can be a great preventive measure and should be done by every woman.

References:

"Symptoms of Breast Cancer', 2006, Sept 28, Center for Disease Control

"Breast Cancer Symptoms", 2007, Sept 27, Mayo Clinic

"Symptoms and Diagnosis", 2007, March 14, Marisa Weiss, M.D., Breastcancer.org

"Breast Cancer",2007, April 27, Updated by Rita Nanda, M.D., National Institute of Health