Breast cancer is a formidable foe. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 627,000 women lost their lives to breast cancer in 2018. But women are not helpless in the fight against breast cancer, as the WHO notes early detection is critical and could potentially save thousands of lives each year.
A proactive approach is a key component of protecting oneself against breast cancer. While the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. notes that many breast cancer symptoms are invisible and not noticeable without a professional cancer screening, women can keep an eye out for certain signs of breast cancer they might be able to detect on their own. Monthly self-exams can help women more easily identify changes in their breasts. During such self-exams, women can look for the following signs and symptoms and are advised to report any abnormalities they discover to their physicians immediately.
• Changes in how the breast or nipple feels: The NBCF says nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm could indicate the presence of breast cancer. Some women may notice changes in the skin texture or an enlargement of the pores in the skin of their breast. In many instances, skin texture has been described as being similar to the texture of an orange peel. Lumps in the breast also may indicate breast cancer, though not all lumps are cancerous.
• Change in appearance of the breast or nipple: Unexplained changes in the size or shape of the breast; dimpling anywhere on the breast; unexplained swelling or shrinking of the breast, particularly when the shrinking or swelling is exclusive to one side only; and a nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted are some signs and symptoms of breast cancer that can affect the appearance of the breast or nipple. It is common for women’s breasts to be asymmetrical, but sudden asymmetry should be brought to the attention of a physician.
• Discharge from the nipple: The NBCF notes that any discharge from the nipple, but particularly a clear or bloody discharge, could be a sign of breast cancer. The NBCF also advises women that a milky discharge when they are not breastfeeding is not linked to breast cancer but should be discussed with a physician.
Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can increase the likelihood of early diagnosis, which greatly improves women’s chances of surviving this disease.