Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, making it vital to be aware of the key signs and symptoms so it can be identified and treated as quickly as possible. The people that are most at risk are those who live an unhealthy lifestyle, and those who are older, particularly those who have experienced menopause. Despite this, breast cancer can affect any woman. A diagnosis of breast cancer will have many different effects on your daily life, depending on the treatment that you need and the stage that your cancer is at. The following information distinguishes the two main types of breast cancer, outlines key signs and symptoms that you need to know, and gives step-by-step instructions on how to carry out a breast examination.
The 2 Main Types of Breast Cancer
Non-Invasive Breast Cancer
This type of breast cancer is found in the ducts of the breast rather than the breast tissue. This cancer is usually less common and is normally picked up during mammograms. It is rarely discovered through a lump in the breast, demonstrating the importance of mammograms – if you do not have regular screenings, this type of breast cancer may go unidentified.
Invasive Breast Cancer
Invasive breast cancer is more common than non-invasive. This is where the cancer cells have started to spread from the ducts of the breast through the lining into the breast tissue. This type of breast cancer is more likely to be identified through new and unexpected lumps in the breast, making it very important to regularly examine your breasts and seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you find a lump so potential breast cancer can be identified as quickly as possible.
5 Key Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
New Lumps in the Breast or Armpit
Despite being the most commonly experienced sign of breast cancer, most lumps found in the breast are cysts or fibroadenoma, which are benign (non-cancerous). However, this in no way means that lumps in the breast should not be investigated immediately after being identified.
Breast exams are the easiest way of locating lumps and bumps. If you are at a high risk of breast cancer you should attend regular annual mammograms and physical examinations carried out by a doctor – the faster breast cancer is identified, the better chance you have of beating it. If you are not classified as being at high risk, you should still carry out regular self-exams. Self-administered breast exams should ideally be a part of a regular routine or carried out at least on a monthly basis. They are simple and easy to carry out.
Self-examinations are explained at the end of the article.
Changes in the Shape or Size of the Breast
Another key symptom to be aware of is a change in the shape or size of the breast. Get to know the shape, the size, and the feel of your breasts when they are healthy so it is easier for you to notice any abnormalities. The most common change is the breast appearing larger or generally misshapen. These differences should be noticeable when carrying out the visual examination stage of breast self-examination.
Skin Changes or Rashes Around the Breast
The most important types of skin changes to note when looking out for signs and symptoms of breast cancer are dimpling, puckering, rashes, or redness. These are usually found around the nipple area. You can also experience changes in the texture of the skin around the nipple – this should be easily identified in a breast examination. These changes in the skin are often described as looking similar to orange peel.
Fluid Leaks or Discharge from the Breast Without Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, discharge or leaking fluid from the breast is not normal and could be a sign of breast cancer. However, there are other conditions that can also display this symptom. If you are experiencing any unexpected discharge, contact a health professional for advice, particularly if you are experiencing any other symptoms in this list.
Changes in the Nipple or Nipple Inversion
The two main ways in which the appearance of the nipple can change are inversion and differences in the texture of the nipple. If the nipple has turned inwards or started to sink into your breast, this is nipple inversion. Your nipple can also display signs of a rash, similar to the rashes that are often experienced on the skin of the breast. These rashes are often accompanied by general redness. If any of these changes are experienced, with or without other symptoms on this list, it is advised that you contact a healthcare professional for advice.
Easy Steps for a Self-Administered Breast Examination
Self-administered breast examinations are the best way to identify the symptoms of breast cancer. The best time to carry out a breast exam is approximately one week after your last period ended. If your periods are irregular, they should be carried out at the same time each month.
1. Visual Examination
Take off your top and bra, and put your hands on your hips. Look for any redness, change in the nipples, or change in the shape or size of the breast. Remember to also check under your breasts and under your arms.
2. Get into the Correct Position
Lie down and lift one of your arms above your head. Your other arm will be the one you carry out the examination with.
3. Start the Physical Examination
Using the hand that is not above your head, feel around the breast on the side of the raised arm. Start under the armpit and feel around the tissue with your three middle fingers in a circular motion. Move across the breast until you have felt the entire surface area of the breast and underarm. Repeat this again with more force, and carry this out on both breasts
4. Check the Nipples
Lightly but firmly squeeze the nipple, looking for any lumps or unexpected discharge.