More Than a Lump: Other Breast Cancer Symptoms to Watch For
Women worldwide are encouraged to perform regular breast self-exams to look for lumps that may be a symptom of breast cancer. However, there are other symptoms beyond lumps that may provide an even earlier warning that something may be wrong. In fact, as many as one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer sees her doctor for a symptom other than a lump.
“Finding a lump in your breast is a common symptom of breast cancer,” said Archit A. Naik, M.D., a surgical oncologist at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “However, many breast cancers present without a lump as their first symptom. Knowing some of the other presenting symptoms could potentially save your life.”
The following symptoms should prompt a visit to your doctor or gynecologist for a checkup:
A Change in Appearance
Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is important. They will go through fluctuations in size and shape throughout your cycle, and throughout your lifetime. However, any sudden change or a change that is atypical for you should raise an alarm.
“Through regular breast self-exams, you will gain an understanding of what is within your normal range,” said Dr. Naik. “Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor if something changes — it’s always better to be overly cautious and catch a potential problem early.”
Lymph Node Swelling
Swelling in the lymph nodes under your arm or near your collarbone should always be checked by a doctor. It’s usually a simple illness or infection; however, in some cases, swelling in these areas can be an early sign of breast cancer. “In certain cases, lymph node enlargement occurs before there is a palpable breast lump,” said Dr. Naik. “If you do feel a lump in your armpit or above your clavicle, you should call your doctor as soon as possible because this could be a sign of more advanced cancer.”
Pain in the breast or nipple is not always a cause for alarm since it’s very common when hormone levels fluctuate. However, if that pain doesn’t go away, you should talk to your doctor.
“An achy feeling in your breast or armpit often leads to a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound which, in turn, may diagnose an early breast cancer,” said Dr. Naik. “If breast pain persists for more than a week or two, it’s worth having it checked out.”
Nipple Discharge or an Inverted Nipple
Changes in your nipples can also be an early sign of breast cancer. This can include discharge of anything other than breast milk if you are nursing.
“Your nipple appearance should be largely consistent,” said Dr. Naik. “Make an appointment if your nipple changes shape, position, looks like it is being pulled inward, or if it is itchy.”
Changes to Breast Skin
Changes like dimpling or puckering should be a cause for concern. You should also talk to your doctor if you experience a rash or redness on your skin or around the nipple.
“You should also keep an eye out for any changes to the texture of your breast skin,” said Dr. Naik. “Dry, hard, or scaly skin is a potential warning sign of breast cancer.”
Early detection of breast cancer is the key to successful treatment and recovery. Call your doctor today if you have concerns about any of these potential symptoms.