In most cases, early breast cancer has few symptoms. Most women and men, since both can develop breast cancer, may note breast cancer by detecting a lump in the breast or in the underarm. Lumps don’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. In about 90% of cases lumps are benign, but the best way to determine whether a lump might be one of the true symptoms of breast cancer is to see your doctor. They may ask you to undergo a needle biopsy to check for cancerous cells, or to do a mammogram to visualize the breast and rule out breast cancer.
Other symptoms of breast cancer may be noted in typical cases. These can include discharge from the nipples, often colored red or appearing bloody. Note that nipple discharge will certainly occur for some time after you’ve had a child or stopped nursing, and even sometimes when you take certain types of medications. A doctor can take a smear of the discharge to look for the presence of malignant cells.
Several additional symptoms of breast cancer include dimpling of the skin around the breast, inversion of the nipple, change in the size or shape of one breast only, and rash on or surrounding the nipple. What makes these symptoms of breast cancer confusing and sometimes ignored is that each one of these things can be caused by other conditions. Still, given the rapid spread of true breast cancer, it’s always best to check these symptoms out by seeing a doctor.
There are a few rare types of breast cancer that are easier to detect. Inflammatory breast cancer, for instance, is associated with the whole breast being swollen (inflamed). Other symptoms of breast cancer of this type include extreme soreness of the breast, and the breast changing color to red. When the breast is very inflamed, the pores on the skin may be very noticeable, and some compare the look to an orange peel. The whole breast may feel hot to the touch and may feel not only swollen but also rigid or firm.
Yet another rare breast cancer called Paget’s disease of the nipple or mammary Paget’s disease may look like a rash across the breast. The rash appears scaly and is usually itchy and uncomfortable. People often mistake this cancer for eczema, but spread of the rash can help determine mammary Paget’s disease, in addition to doing a needle biopsy. The rash usually begins on the nipples, covers the areola and then spreads to the skin surrounding the nipple. If you note a rash on your nipple that persists for more than a few days and then spreads, you should definitely see a doctor.
Many women and men do not have symptoms of breast cancer in early stages and fail to detect lumps early enough. It cannot be stressed enough how extremely important it is to conduct regular monthly self- exams of the breasts. It is also important for women to begin having mammograms in their early 40s, though they are not pleasant, to help with early detection. Mammograms should begin sooner if you have a family history of early onset breast cancer.