Over the past few days, we have told you how to check for changes in your breasts by doing regular breast self-examinations, but the problem is that breast lumps aren’t always detectable by feeling them by hand until they are at least 10 – 15mm in size. And, as we know, not all breast cancer presents as a lump.
So what else can you do to catch breast cancer as early as possible?
Here are some warning signs that will definitely help guide you:
- Pain in the breast or chest:
Pay attention if you regularly experience an ache, throb, twinge or sharp stabbing pain. You’ll need to make sure that this is a new symptom, and not something that you experience as a normal part of your monthly cycle or PMS, but always get medical advice if you are not sure.
- Itchy breasts:
This symptom, often associated with inflammatory breast cancer is often missed. If your breasts are extremely itchy, and no amount of creams or scratching makes the itch go away, then you need to get to a doctor. This itchiness is caused when fast-growing cancer cells block the normal flow of blood and lymph. Your skin may also feel scaly or look a bit like cellulite.
- Upper back, shoulder or neck pain:
If tumour growth pushes backwards towards the spine then the pain from breast cancer will be felt in the back. It may feel like sore muscles or a pulled tendon — but it doesn’t go away. Bone pain feels like a deep ache or throbbing. If the pain does not go away in spite of treatment, then ask for a bone scan.
- Changes in breast shape, size or appearance:
Tissue growth that is deep in the breast or hidden by dense breast tissue may change the shape of the breast without causing a noticeable lump, so it is important to be aware of what your breasts look like normally. Often this is first noticed by a partner, or you may find that your bra is not fitting in the way that it used to.
- A change in nipple appearance or sensitivity, or leaking nipples:
One of the most common places that breast cancer occurs is just below the nipple. (This is also one of the most common warning signs for men with breast cancer.) You may notice that one of your nipples sticks up more than before, or it may be inverted or flattened. It may also have less sensitivity than normal. Watch out for any form of discharge (usually brown or bloody) from the nipple if you are not breastfeeding.
- Swelling or a lump in your armpit:
The lymph nodes in your arm are where breast cancer often spreads first, and this area may feel tender even before a breast lump is big enough to be easily felt. Colds, flu and other infections may also cause this symptom, but if the infection has gone and the pain remains, then get medical advice.
- Red, ‘hot’ and/swollen breasts:
If your breasts feel like they have a temperature and the skin is looking red or purpleish you definitely need to get medical advice. It may be mastitis, but if you are prescribed antibiotics and the symptoms persist, then you need to make sure that you get extra tests done.