Breast cancer is a global health concern that afflicts millions of people worldwide. At the end of 2020, as many as 7.8 million women had been diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) fact sheet about the condition. It is both the most prevalent cause of cancer mortality for women across the globe and the cancer that causes the most lost disability-adjusted life years or DALYs among women.
Early detection and timely medical treatment are among the best courses of action for confronting the rising global mortality rates for breast cancer. But in order for these to happen, people need to be more aware of what symptoms precede breast cancer and how soon to get medical assistance.
To that end, below are the six of the most notable symptoms of breast cancer. If you notice any of these problems occurring around your breast area, don’t delay in getting the input of a doctor.
Noticeable Pain in the Breast
Breast pain or mastalgia can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as the occurrence of one’s menstrual period, changes in hormone levels, or breast trauma. But noticeable pain that can’t be attributed to any of these may merit examination from a doctor.
If you experience mastalgia that continues for more than two weeks, seems concentrated in a specific area of your breast, or interferes significantly with your daily activities, get a check-up to see if you’re at risk for breast cancer.
A Lump in the Breast or Underarm Area
Most masses that form in the breast, like fibroadenomas or cysts, are not necessarily malignant. But medical experts recommend paying attention to a breast lump that feels hard to the touch, is irregularly shaped, and is noticeably different from the rest of your breast tissue.
Take special note of a lump that’s appeared near your neck, chest, or armpit, as this may indicate advanced breast cancer that’s travelled to your lymph nodes. When in doubt about a breast lump you’ve never encountered before, it’s always best to get the input of a medical expert.
Swelling or Thickening of the Breast
Another warning sign of breast cancer is swelling or thickening in the breast area, accompanied by feelings of soreness and tenderness. This may be due to cancer cells blocking the lymphatic vessels in your breast skin, thus causing your breast to swell.
If you’ve noticed swelling or thickening that’s altered the shape, size, or general appearance of one of your breasts, be quick to schedule an examination. You’ll need a doctor’s input to see if the swelling can be attributed to breast cancer or another breast condition like a breast infection.
Problems in the Nipple Area
Breast cancer often manifests through problems in the nipple area. These can be through skin issues like redness or flakiness in the areola, or an abnormal dimpled skin texture akin to that of an orange peel.
It’s also cause for alarm if a nipple has changed in shape, become distended, or inverted inwards. Such changes can also be accompanied by pain or discomfort. If any of these issues have appeared around your nipples, schedule an appointment with a breast surgeon or oncologist who specialises in breast cancer treatment.
Abnormal Nipple Discharge
Lastly, abnormal nipple discharge, or discharge that isn’t breast milk, may also be indicative of breast cancer. For example, intraductal carcinoma, a type of cancer that develops within the breast ducts, can manifest in the form of bloody discharge.
Like the other symptoms listed above, nipple discharge may not necessarily be a cause of concern on its own. But if the discharge is bloody, yellow, or cloudy white, and if it occurs in conjunction with a breast mass, swelling, or other problems in the nipple area, it’s best to consult a doctor right away.
Takeaway: Towards the Early Detection and Treatment of Breast Cancer
The next step after identifying these symptoms is to get a proper diagnosis of breast cancer. Diagnosis can be done through a clinical breast examination, a mammogram or breast X-ray, a breast ultrasound, a breast MRI, or a core biopsy. If your doctor has found a malignant tumour in your breast, your treatment options include mastectomy or surgery to remove the affected breast, radiation therapy, and systemic therapy using anti-cancer medicines.
There have been vast improvements in the field of breast cancer treatment, and the probability of survival can be as high as 90 per cent if the disease is diagnosed early. The earlier the detection, the higher a person’s chances are for a full recovery.
It may be especially frightening to think about having a condition like breast cancer and undergoing medical interventions like mastectomy surgery or chemotherapy. But don’t be afraid to tap into your support network of friends and family members and to seek out the stories of people who are also grappling with breast cancer or who have braved the condition.
As treatment pathways for breast cancer continue to evolve, remember that you are not alone in what you’re going through. You’ve got your loved ones, as well as the rest of the medical community, behind you in your quest for a healthier future.