6 Breast Cancer Symptoms That Have Nothing to Do with Feeling a Lump
A breast cancer diagnosis often goes something like this: A woman feels a lump on her breast and makes a doctor's appointment. The doctor conducts some tests—which may include a breast exam, mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, or a combination—and determines the lump is cancerous.
That's why women are encouraged to complete self-exams regularly and be familiar enough with their breasts to notice any changes.
But a lump isn't the only breast cancer symptom to keep your eye out for. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology found that 1 in 6 women diagnosed with breast cancer experience a spectrum of symptoms other than breast lump.
Because there's not as much awareness of these less common breast cancer symptoms, the researchers hypothesized that so-called "atypical presentations" could be delaying some women's diagnoses. Of course, an earlier diagnosis results in earlier treatment, which typically tends to work best, says Joseph Weber, M.D., a breast surgical oncologist at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee.
That's not to say you should stop inspecting your breasts. In the Cancer Epidemiology study, 83% of the women who had breast cancer symptoms and were diagnosed found a lump first. However, a little more awareness of other signs can't hurt. "Our results highlight opportunities for a shift in emphasis in symptom awareness campaigns toward breast symptoms other than breast lump," the researchers write.
Dr. Weber agrees. "If women notice any changes in their breasts, they need to have a professional evaluate them," he says. "Talk to a doctor about anything that looks different from their normal appearance." Here are the main breast cancer symptoms to watch out for.
Skin irritation or dimpling
A rough patch of skin that feels scaly or thicker than usual or skin that starts to dimple can signal breast cancer, Dr. Weber says. With some breast cancers, channels that go from the inside of the breast to the skin become blocked, resulting in skin changes that make the breast look like it's covered with an orange peel.
Breast or nipple pain
Many things can cause pain in your breasts or nipples, like PMS, pregnancy, or even menopause. But if you notice persistent pain along with other breast cancer symptoms, it's important to report the experience to your doctor—regardless if it’s a sharp twinge or a dull ache.
Some breast cancers will cause what's called nipple inversion or retraction, in which the nipple turns inward. Typically, that's because a mass is growing inside the breast and changes its shape, Dr. Weber explains. In the recent research, 7% of the women who were diagnosed with breast cancer reported nipple abnormalities.
Another possible nipple abnormality can be discharge that's not breast milk. Nipple discharge is, thankfully, most often not cancer, but it's important to see a doctor immediately if the discharge comes out without you touching or squeezing the nipple, especially if it's bloody and only affecting one side.
Color or texture changes
This can include redness, darkening, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin. One type of breast cancer called Paget disease—a rare form that starts at your breast ducts and spreads to the nipple and areola—is often accompanied by a rash.
Swelling of all or part of a breast
Inflammatory breast cancer often starts with red, inflamed skin that swells as cancer cells clog the vessels that carry lymph fluid.
View the original story on OprahMag.com: 6 Breast Cancer Symptoms That Have Nothing to Do with Feeling a Lump.