It is important that women are aware of how their breasts feel normally, so they will notice any breast cancer symptoms at an early stage, when treatment often has a better outcome. Men, too, should be on the alert for any changes in their breast tissue. Breast cancer can be present for years without causing any symptoms. The first sign that something is wrong for most women is when they find a lump in the breast or the nearby armpit.
The breast cancer symptoms could be any of the following –
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast – Not all lumps in or near the breast are due to breast cancer. Some of the lumps may be due to hormonal changes. If the lumps persist, then evaluation should be done to rule out cancer of the breast. Lump in the breast is the commonest breast cancer symptom.
- A lump or swelling under the arm – A lump or swelling in the armpit indicates enlargement of lymph node which is an important symptom of cancer of the breast. Lymph node enlargement could be due to many reasons including cancer. Persistent lump needs evaluation.
- Changes in the size or shape of the breast, especially those caused by arm movements or by lifting the breasts – These changes indicate that the breast tissue is enlarged. These may be normal due to hormonal changes. If they are due to hormonal changes, they will be cyclical. If the size does not fluctuate and if it keeps increasing in size and changing in shape, then breast cancer has to be ruled out.
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast – Dimpling or puckering of skin is due to involvement of the skin by the cancer tissue. The external appearance would be like the skin of an orange (peau d'orange).
- Changes in the look or feel of the skin of the breast, the nipple or the area around the nipple
- Bleeding or discharge from the nipple – Bleeding from the nipple is always abnormal and has to be investigated adequately to rule out breast cancer. Bleeding is an important symptom. Discharge other than blood from the nipple may or may not be normal. If the discharge is from one breast only, if it is a new discharge, then it is not normal and have to be investigated.
- The nipple turns in and becomes inverted or points differently
- Discomfort or pain in the breast, particularly if new and persistent – Pain in the breast may occur due to hormonal changes during menstrual cycle. It occurs in both the breasts and it is normal. If the pain does not follow the menstrual cycle and if it is new or persistent or occurs in one breast only, it is considered abnormal. Breast pain is one of the important symptoms that should not be ignored.