Breast cancer is every woman’s worst nightmare. At the current rate, women have a one in eight chance of getting the dreaded disease. As with all cancers, the earlier breast cancer is detected the greater your chance of treating it successfully and going on to live a long and healthy life.
Mammography screenings can usually detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, before it presents warning signs, but not every time. This is one reason why it’s so important for women to know the early warning signs of breast cancer. By regularly performing breast self-exams and looking at their chest in the mirror, women can detect slight changes in their breast tissue. Any change or abnormality should be evaluated by a physician.
Here are the early warning signs of breast cancer you should look for and how to perform a breast self-exam.
The majority of breast cancers are found due to a new lump or mass felt in breast tissue. Some women’s breasts normally feel quite lumpy. If both breasts feel the same, it’s probably nothing to worry about. What you need to be concerned about are lumps that feel harder than other areas of the breast, lumps that have changed sizes, new lumps, or a lump with irregular edges. Cancerous masses are usually painless, but not always.
Milky liquid may leak from your nipple if it’s been squeezed or if you’re breastfeeding. Otherwise, anytime you have discharge leaking from one nipple, see your doctor. Discharge may be clear, yellow, brown, or red. While discharge rarely signals breast cancer, it may indicate an infection that needs to be treated.
Change in Appearance
Breast cancer can affect the way your breast looks on the outside. This is why it’s important to be familiar with how your breasts normally appear. Take note of their typical size, shape, and color. Look at your breasts in the mirror as you’re dressing or getting in the shower. Watch for changes in the shape and size of your nipple and breast. Any time you see redness, darkness, or swelling on your breast, when one breast looks larger than the other, a nipple is turned inward, or the skin on your breast is dimpled, make an appointment to see your doctor.
A New Feeling
As you perform monthly self-breast exams, besides noting lumps or changes in appearance, notice how your breasts feel to the touch. Using your fingers, examine all around each breast and up into your armpit. Breast cancer may cause the skin on the breast to itch persistently, a scaly sore or rash on the skin or nipple, bumps that look like bug bites, or warmth on the skin. Sometimes the skin’s texture may look like an orange peel or there may be new veins visible on the skin.
Talk with your doctor about how often you should get a mammogram. Your family history and risk factors may influence the timing of a baseline mammogram and subsequent screenings. In the meantime, it’s crucial for all women to perform monthly breast self-exams to detect changes. Here’s how to do one.
While in the shower and your skin is wet and soapy, use the soft pads of your fingers to press gently around each breast and armpit area using a circular movement to feel any lumps, hard spots, or thickening.
Standing bare-chested in front of a mirror with your arms down by your sides, look each breast’s shape and size. Raise your arms above your head and look for areas of swelling, dimpling, or discoloration. Put your hands on your hips and press firmly to flex your muscles. Again, look for changes in appearance or differences between breasts.
Lastly, lie down on your back so your breast tissue flattens out. Place a pillow beneath your right shoulder and put your right arm behind your head. Use the pads of your fingers on your left hand to press in a circular motion around your right breast and armpit area. Gently squeeze your nipple to check for lumps or discharge. Change positions and check your left breast.