Breast Cancer: Reading the Signs
Most breast cancers in adult women are found by feeling a lump or seeing an abnormality on a mammogram. Breast cancer may also be found by other kinds of tests, such as ultrasound or MRI. Here are some of the signs of breast cancer:
A LUMP IN THE BREAST OR UNDER THE ARM. A woman or her doctor might notice a lump in her breast that feels firm or hard, doesn’t go away, or gets bigger. Sometimes a lump can show up in an armpit lymph node from cancer cells that spread from the breast. But, again most lumps are not cancer.
A THICKENING IN THE BREAST. Occasionally, cancer can feel like a thick area of tissue in the breast (not anything round)–sort of like an area of stiff thin carpeting, surrounded by a regular plush shag carpet with a lot of padding.
A CHANGE IN THE SHAPE OR SIZE OF THE BREAST. Sometimes the breast can look different on the outside. A woman might notice a bulge, dimple, or dent. Or perhaps part of or all of the breast appears bigger. A nipple that used to point out might flatten and tuck inside. As breast cancer grows, it pulls in tissue around it, and and that’s how it changes the shape of the breast.
REDNESS OR A RASH. Occasionally, a change in the color of the breast could be a sign of breast cancer. A relatively rare form of breast cancer involves redness and swelling of part or all of the breast.
A SORE ON THE BREAST. Very occasionally, a sore might develop on the surface of the breast or nipple/areola that might itch, bleed, or refuse to heal or go away. It might even get bigger. There could be a lump right underneath the sore spot that feels a little like a mosquito bite. When this happens, only rarely is it a breast cancer. Much more commonly it’s acne or a real bug bite that you may have scratched and it got irritated or infected.
NIPPLE DISCHARGE. If blood comes out of one nipple, it’s usually not cancer. It usually comes from a bunch of normal cells hanging out in the milk pipe under the nipple. In girls, it’s rarely a sign of a breast cancer growth underneath.
Most of the time, breast cancer causes no symptoms–no pain, itching, throbbing, or other feelings. But if there are new and unusual symptoms in one breast that don’t go away or get worse, if they are different from period-related breast symptoms, and if your instincts tell you that something’s not right, then let your doctor know. It’s very unlikely that it will be breast cancer, but it’s still important to check things out.
Excerpted with permission from Taking Care of Your “Girls”: A Breast Health Guide for Girls, Teens, and In-Betweens (Three Rivers Press, 2008).
Marisa Weiss, M.D., is the founder of breastcancer.org and Isabel Friedman is her daughter.
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By Marisa Weiss, M.D., and Isabel Friedman, from Intent