Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world today, but one that is highly treatable, particularly if diagnosed early.

Certain bodily changes could indicate the presence of breast cancer and it is important to notice these as early as possible and visit your physician for a proper examination, if there are concerns.

But what are the early signs to look out for with breast cancer? Here we take a closer look at the most obvious symptoms and what one should do if they notice one or more of the warning signs.  

Breast Cancer Warning Signs

As with many cancers, in the very early stages, there may be no noticeable symptoms at all. It’s only when the presence of a tumor or lump is noticed that an individual might rush to their physician.

Everyone understands that the earlier a person can have their cancer diagnosed, the better the chance of recovery. Therefore, regular self-monitoring of the breasts is recommended, to make sure that any changes are noticed as soon as possible.

Lumps (in the Breast or Underarm)

The most common breast cancer warning sign is a lump in the area of the breast or underarm. However, it’s important to know that the breasts can change texture and a certain ‘lumpiness’ doesn’t always mean there is a problem or there is cancer developing.

Checking the breasts and feeling for lumps or abnormalities is something that can be done quickly at regular intervals without any medical knowledge.

One should see their physician if:

  • They notice that the texture of their breasts has changed and is not because of their menstrual cycle.
  • There is a harder lump that doesn’t appear part of the breast.
  • There is a lump in one breast and not the other.

Changes in Breast Size/Shape

Breast cancer self examination

Breast size and shape can change slightly for a variety of reasons but if there is a noticeable difference here and it has nothing to do with normal biological processes, it’s important to see a doctor for a more detailed examination.

Pain/Tenderness

Many people who find a lump in their breast (which is later diagnosed as cancer) report that the presence of the lump isn’t accompanied with pain. However, in some cases, unusual pain or tenderness of the breast area can mean there is a problem and, if it persists, the individual should be checked out by a physician as soon as possible.

Nipple Discharge

Nipple discharge is not uncommon in women but it can also be a sign that something may be wrong. The discharge may be clear, bloody or discolored and one should seek advice from their doctor if this symptom persists.

Swelling

If there is swelling in the armpit or collarbone, it could mean the presence of cancer which has passed into the nearby lymph nodes.

Changes in the Nipple

Along with discharge, there may be be noticeable changes in the shape and size of the nipple area. The nipple might become dimpled or pulled inwards, for example. There may be pain, burning or itching and the area might develop sores.

What to Do If You Notice These Warning Signs

Many of these symptoms are associated with benign breast conditions. Just because a lump is present, does not necessarily mean it is breast cancer. In fact, the most common causes of a lump are a fibrous, non-cancerous growths or a build-up of fluid causing a cyst.

It’s vital to carry out regular self-examinations so that any potential changes are noticed at the earliest opportunity. While it can be very stressful when a lump is noticed, it’s a relatively simple process to get this checked out.

It’s important to not ignore any of the warning signs and hope that they will just disappear over time. The recovery rates from early breast cancer diagnoses are much better than in cases whereby the cancer had more time to develop.

A physician will carry out the initial examination. If they are not sure what is causing a lump or something like nipple discharge, they will refer the patient to a breast clinic. Most will do this as a matter of caution anyway, even if they think the problem is non-cancerous.

This visit to the hospital involves having an x-ray or ultrasound scan and a biopsy where a needle is inserted into the breast and some tissue removed for testing. Both of these processes are normally carried out during the same visit to the hospital.

Be Aware of Bodily Changes

There are several warning signs that can be noticed early on which may suggest the presence of breast cancer. Being breast aware and carrying out regular self-examinations can help the individual notice these signs as soon as possible. This will improve the chances of recovery, if it is indeed breast cancer causing these symptoms.

However, in many cases there may not be any symptoms noticed by the individual. Therefore, regular breast cancer screening is recommended for women of certain ages who are at a higher risk of developing the disease.