10 Signs of Breast Cancer You Shouldn't Ignore
10 Signs of Breast Cancer You Shouldn't Ignore
This content has been reviewed and approved for quality and accuracy by James O'Loan (GPhC: 2084549)
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here, and there’s never been a more important time to check your breasts.
Just because you don’t see a lump, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t something wrong.
There are many signs of breast cancer, so if you notice a change (big or small!) you shouldn’t ignore it.
In this guide we’ll discuss the 10 signs and symptoms of breast cancer so you know what to look out for - don’t worry, if you find something it may be completely harmless, but always speak to your doctor and get it checked out.
Changes in the breast’s appearance and touch
Let’s first dive into some of the changes you might discover when you examine or feel your breasts.
It’s good to know what is normal for you - many women have breasts that are two different sizes, or they might be swollen and tender due to hormones or breastfeeding.
By getting to know your breasts, it will be much easier for you to identify when something has changed so you can act quickly.
Feel each breast and armpit, up to your collarbone, with both your arms raised and by your side.
There’s no right or wrong way to check - but you might find it more comfortable while you’re showering or bathing.
Breast lumps vary, from painful and painless lumps, to hard and immobile ones, or soft and moveable lumps.
Most are harmless, like a tissue growth or a cyst.
Your breast lump will probably go away on its own without treatment, but you should always speak to your GP first to get a proper diagnosis.
Your GP might perform or refer you to have a breast examination, a breast x-ray (mammogram), ultrasound, or a biopsy, where some of your cells will get sent off for testing.
Your breasts can swell for several reasons, like before your period starts, if you’re pregnant or have recently given birth, or even certain foods and drinks could possibly be the trigger.
Cancer can be another cause, but it’s less common.
If you have breast swelling, you may feel a heaviness in your breast, perhaps tenderness and discomfort, too.
Breast swelling might be normal for you - but if it’s something unusual you’ve noticed recently, always speak to your doctor for peace of mind.
Lots of people have dimples on their faces - some even consider them to be endearing.
But if you discover a dimple on your breast, possibly more evident when you raise your arms, it could be a sign of cancer.
When something is pulling on the skin, like a tumour or cyst (cancerous or not), it can cause a dimpling effect.
Always speak to your doctor if you notice dimpling on your breast, as it could be a sign that something is wrong.
Redness and swelling of the breast is often a sign that something is wrong, but it doesn’t usually have a sinister cause, like cancer.
It’s most likely the result of an infection, a skin condition like psoriasis, or an allergic reaction - perhaps you’ve used a new lotion or washing powder.
Even so, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should go and see your healthcare provider for advice.
Don’t wait to see if it goes away on its own as you may need treatment like antibiotics if the cause is indeed an infection.
If you notice that the texture on your breast has changed - it might be rough, bumpy, resembling that of an orange peel - it could be a telltale sign of cancer, but not always.
You can get orange-peel skin on other parts of your body, like on areas where you have cellulite or an infection, and some pregnant women may naturally develop it on their breasts as they swell.
But if this is new for you, always get it checked.
Changes in the nipple
It’s not just the breast itself that can change - the nipple can too, and it’s usually more apparent.
Keep reading to learn the different signs and symptoms to look out for when it comes to your nipples - but remember, just because you notice something doesn’t automatically mean it’s the big C-word.
It’s always best to get it checked out by a professional and to not self-diagnose.
Discharge from the nipples in women from time to time is normal, and it may just be the result of a fluctuation in hormones, a side effect of a medication like the contraceptive pill, or from leaking breast milk.
However, nipple discharge in men is not normal.
If nipple discharge is not usual for you, or if it’s blood-stained, has a smell, if you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding, or it’s accompanied by other symptoms like a lump, pain, redness, or swelling, it could be a sign of breast cancer.
Some people are born with inverted nipples, or it can develop as you age, as the result of breastfeeding or injury, or as a side effect of certain conditions and infections.
But it can also be a symptom of breast cancer.
If having an inverted nipple is normal for you (you’ve had it since you were born, for example) it shouldn’t be a cause for concern - but if it’s new or followed by other symptoms like discharge or pain, speak to your doctor for advice.
Occasionally, like inverted nipples, they may change direction, likely due to an infection of the mammary ducts - or uncommonly, cancer.
This is more common in women over the age of 50 and in those who are breastfeeding - but if you notice this change, it’s important to book in to see your GP.
If you notice a scaly, eczema-like texture to the nipple (it could extend to the areola), it may be an early sign of breast cancer or Paget’s disease.
The nipple can often be inflamed, sore, itchy, or have a burning sensation.
It’s probably nothing serious, but if you notice a dry, scaly texture - or any changes in the texture of your nipple - you should contact your GP.
Similar to the scaly texture, Paget’s disease (a rare form of cancer that can affect the nipple and breast) can cause ulcers and sores on the nipple.
If you develop a sore on the nipple, it’s most likely the cause of itching, an infection, friction, or breastfeeding.
But if you’re worried or find that it’s unusual for you, book in to see your GP.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, and for this reason, everyone (yes, men too!) should examine their breasts once a month to check for any changes in texture, appearance, and feel.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is there to encourage you to get up-close and personal to your breasts - you never know, it could save your life.