In the United States, breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, after skin cancer. On average, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. That means it is important that you know what to look for – to be your first line of defense, in breast cancer detection.
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass. It is usually hard, painless and has uneven edges. Some lumps, however, can be soft and rounded. If you find one we recommend you contact your physician – a primary care doctor or a gynecologist – to have the lump evaluated. While the lump may not be cancerous, finding out quickly will ensure you get on the correct path of treatment, if needed.
Other warning signs of breast cancer are easily detectable – if you know what to look for. Common symptoms include:
- Warm, red, irritated and/or itchy breasts: These conditions are among the most common early warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer.
- Nipple discharge: With the exception of breast milk, which may leak from breasts during or after pregnancy, any nipple discharge should be checked by a doctor. Clear or bloody discharge may indicate cancer.
- Flat or inverted nipple: If this is unusual for you, have it evaluated by a doctor.
- Scaliness: Healthy breast skin is smooth. If yours is scaly or inflamed, that's a red flag.
- Changes in skin texture: If you develop a rash, puckering or dimpling on the breast, it could be a sign of breast cancer. Skin changes related to breast cancer may resemble the rough skin of an orange peel.
- Change in breast size or shape: While it's not uncommon for someone to have one breast that's larger than the other, any new change in breast size or shape – especially in just one breast – could indicate cancer.
- Lump or swelling around the breast, collarbone or armpit: Swelling or lumps in the areas surrounding your breasts can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes. This may be seen before you can feel a lump in your breast.
If you notice one or more of these signs or anything else that is out of the ordinary, you should schedule an appointment soon as possible with your doctor.