Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women, with over one million women developing breast cancer world-wide every year.
While it also affects men, the number is quite small compared to women. In the developed world where records are better kept, it is said that one in nine women is likely to develop breast cancer in her life time.
Women aged above 40 years are advised to do screening by mammogram every three years, but it is okay at 50 years and above. The exposure to x-ray is quite harmless and it helps to pick up breast cancer very early.
Should you notice of the symptoms below, see your doctor immediately.
1. A breast lump
A breast lump is a swelling inside the breast; it is quite common, though most of them are not cancerous. The ones that are not cancerous are smooth when felt, are soft and mobile, whereas the cancerous ones are hard, irregular in shape and not mobile. However in some cases, cysts which are non-cancerous can be hard and irregular in shape.
The non-cancerous breast lumps include what are called fibroadenomas and cysts. The former are commoner in young women whereas the latter are found in older women
Sometimes there could be several lumps in one breast.
2. Change in shape of the breast
A breast lump can become attached to the skin of the breast; this and the size of the lump can change the shape of the breast.
3. Change in the breast skin
In-drawing of the skin of the breast results in a change in the skin of the breast; this could be associated with redness and tenderness of the breast. However this situation can also be found in cases of breast infection.
4. The nipple is drawn in.
The whole nipple of the breast could be pulled in or retracted; this could be due to breast cancer though some other conditions could be responsible.
5. Breast pain
Breast pain is not common in breast cancer, only associated with about two percent of cases, in a rare form of breast cancer.
It is said that most breast pain actually comes from the ribs and muscles; before being alarmed, please make sure you check properly where the pain is coming from.
6. Enlargement of the breast
The growth of the lump in the breast increases the size of the breast. However we must remember that breast infection can also cause breast enlargement.
7. Change in the skin of the nipple.
The nipple skin and the area around the nipple could become dry, scaly and itchy. In the case of breast cancer, the problem starts with the nipple and then spreads to the area around the nipple.
8. Discharge from the nipple
Breast discharge is not uncommon in women and in many cases, normal. However, it could be due to drugs or may be due to a tumor in the brain or a breast cancer.
In the case of breast cancer, the discharge could be much, persistent and blood stained.
9. Swelling in the armpit.
A swelling in the armpit may be the first symptom of a breast cancer.
The breast is drained by lymph vessels which carry clear fluid from the breast tissue to the lymph nodes in the corresponding armpit. The lymph vessels and the lymph nodes form part of the disease fighting system in the body; fighting against bacteria, cancer cells and other harmful substances by removing them from the body. When the cancer cells reach the lymph nodes of the armpit, they continue to grow resulting in enlargement of the nodes.