Breast cancer is considered the most common form of cancer among American women and the second leading cause of cancer death in the said demographics.
The risk factors of developing breast cancer range from a genetic disposition to unhealthy lifestyle choices. But it is noteworthy to know that the chances of surviving breast cancer through recommended treatment are high especially with early diagnosis and immediate intervention. In fact, there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States right now.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let us take a closer look into early warning signs specifically unusual changes in the breast when the cancer is at the onset of development.
There are many arguments surrounding the impact of breast self-exam. Nonetheless, many experts still hail the contribution of a proper self-exam in the detection of cancer progression in the breast. According to John Hopkins Medical Center, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are due to lumps detected by women while performing a breast self-exam.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. encourages women to perform breast self-exam at least once a month.
Routinely perform a breast self-exam by doing the following:
A. Visual observation
1. Stand in front of a mirror with straight shoulders while putting your arms on your hips and visually examine any changes in your breast. This could range from changes in size, shape, color of your areolas, and visible swelling.
2. Raise both your arms and look for the same changes. Take note if there are unusual fluids that come out of your breast.
B. Checking for Lumps
1. Feel your breast carefully while lying down.
Flatten your three middle fingers together and use a firm touch in a circular motion to detect any swelling. Use your left hands to feel your right breast and your right hand for your left breast.
Follow a singular pattern in feeling your breast to cover all the parts. You can start at the nipples and move outward to the edge of the breast. You can also use the up-and-down approach.
2. Stand up or sit down and feel your breast.
Look for any swelling while standing or sitting still. Perform the recommended steps in detecting lumps in these positions. A lot of women find it easier to do this in the shower as when the skin is wet and slippery.
What unusual changes in the breast could indicate Breast Cancer?
When performing a breast self-exam, look for the following odd conditions.
- Breast swelling
- Lump in the breast or underarm
- Breast or nipple pain
- Skin irritation around the breast
- Nipple retraction
- Irregular nipple discharge
Breast Swelling Signs of Breast Cancer
The size of both breasts can be uneven, and it is considered as a normal occurrence. But the difference is easily unnoticeable. However, if the one breast is obviously larger than the other or is visibly swollen, it is a cause for alarm. Seek immediate medical attention to detect whether the cause of the condition is cancer.
Lump in the Breast of Underarm
The most definitive sign of irregular breast change is the presence of a lump. In a normal healthy breast, usually, a lump is nonexistent. However, finding a lump in your breast or underarm does not automatically equate to cancer.
Like any other types of tumors, a lump can either be diagnosed as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Fibrocystic changes in the breast are an example of a non-cancerous condition that is a form of extreme response to hormonal changes.
A lump that suggests malignant is characterized by its singularity, hardness, and thickened texture. It is often painless and covered by dimpled skin.
Breast or Nipple Pain
Unusual pain in the breast and nipple are not typically associated with the lump but can be linked to inflammation that occurs in the tissues of the breast. Discomfort and minor pain in the breast are normal conditions depending on the menstrual cycle phase that women experience. But prolonged pain accompanied by other symptoms is a clear sign that you should see your doctor.
Skin Irritation around the Breast
The texture of the skin around the breast changes during the development of cancer. It can feel scaly or extremely dry around the nipple and areola. Skin thickening can also be observed in any part of the breast. These changes in breast skin lead to irritation and/or sensitivity.
In the case of Inflammatory breast cancer, dimpling that causes the skin to look like the uneven skin of an orange is a common symptom.
Nipple Retraction Is Another Sign of Breast Cancer
A retracted nipple appears to be turned inward instead of outward. While it is a natural variety of nipple type, a retracted nipple can be a symptom of breast cancers such as carcinoma especially if the condition is not inborn or observed from the past.
Irregular Nipple Discharge
With the exemption of lactation, there shouldn’t be any other time that the nipple produces milk, let alone any other type of discharge. A clear, bloody, or colorful discharge is considered as a sign that something is not right with your breasts.
Detecting Breast Cancer
When you find anything unusual or suggestive of irregular conditions while performing a breast self-exam, the next best thing to do is contact your physician and schedule further testing and analysis.
Doctors would normally order different types of diagnostic tests which might include mammograms, ultrasound, biopsy, and MRI.
But other tests like a specialized blood test can initially be performed through the advice of the doctor in cases wherein going to a medical facility is currently unfeasible.
Likewise, for women who are currently undergoing therapy or other forms of treatment for breast cancer, blood tests such as the Breast Cancer Test-Cancer Antigen CA 27.29 Blood Test and Cancer Antigen 15-3 (Breast & Ovarian Cancer) Blood Test can be ordered to monitor how your body is responding to treatment.
Just like in any other medical circumstance, it is imperative to understand that our health is always in our hands.
If cancer runs in your family, it is best to secure early screening and regular self-exam to detect the formation of breast cancer.
The survival rate for breast cancer is remarkably high and this is due to the fact that most women were keen on observing the unusual changes they experience in their breast and securing immediate medical attention.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, contact your doctor and obtain an appropriate blood test for initial screening.
Early detection means early intervention leading to higher chances of breast cancer survival.