Breast cancer is the leading type of cancer occurring amongst women in Singapore, where more than 1,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. Breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells grow in the breast tissues, usually starting in the milk ducts and glands. The cancer cells can continue to grow in the breast and spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.
Breast cancer symptoms can differ for every woman – some breast cancer patients may experience no symptoms at all. Regardless, early detection is key to having better treatment options and raising one’s chances for a complete recovery.
On top of getting regular breast cancer screenings, it’s crucial for you to pay attention to any changes in your breasts that may be a cause for concern. To help you out, we share 5 common breast cancer symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Lump in your breast
Breast lumps are common, and the majority of them are benign and harmless – especially in younger women. However, in some cases, they can also be a sign of breast cancer. Although the chances of this are low, it’s still crucial to get any breast lump checked by a doctor to alleviate your worries. You may also wish to take note if there are other accompanying breast changes like nipple discharge and inflamed skin.
If necessary, your doctor will order an ultrasound or a biopsy to find out whether the lump needs further treatment or removal. Start building the habit of doing a self-examination every month to feel for any changes in your breast.
2. Nipple discharge
Nipple discharge can be thin or thick in consistency, and it can range in colour, from clear to yellow, green, or even bloody. It’s normal for breastfeeding women to have a milky nipple discharge, but any other nipple discharge should always be evaluated by a doctor.
Breast cancer may be possibility, if you have:
– a nipple discharge that only affects one breast
– a lump in your breast
– a nipple discharge that is clear, contains blood or persistent
However, you shouldn’t be too alarmed just yet. Most nipple discharge is benign and can occur due to breast infections, certain medical conditions, or side effects of birth control pills and certain medications. Nevertheless, do check with your doctor to be sure if it’s serious or not.
3. Skin dimpling
Dimpling on the skin of your breasts may be a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive form of the cancer. Cancerous cells can cause lymph fluid to build up in the breast, which leads to dimpled or pitted skin as well as swelling. Many medical professionals refer to this change in the skin’s appearance as “peau d’orange”, as the dimpled skin often resembles the texture of an orange.
It’s highly advisable to seek medical attention if you notice skin dimpling in your breast, along with symptoms like pain, tenderness, swelling and a burning sensation in the affected breast.
4. Nipple inversion
Nipple inversion is not only associated with breast cancer. Ageing, breastfeeding or injury can cause the nipples to become inverted. There can also be other causes like bacterial infection and mammary duct ectasia. But, if one or both of your nipples suddenly turn inwards, and you notice a lump in your breast or other skin changes on your breast, this could be a sign of breast cancer.
Breast cancer can cause the cells behind the nipple to change. This results in the nipple appearing to invert into the breast or look different in its size. If you’ve noticed a change in the appearance of your nipples, hormonal changes during ovulation or your menstrual cycle could be a reason behind it. But if you notice any new changes in your nipple along with other symptoms, then it’s best to consult a doctor immediately.
5. Swelling in your breast
In some cases, breast cancer can cause either the whole breast or an area of it to swell. Although there may not be a distinct lump present, the swelling can cause the affected breast to differ in size from the other breast.
While it is natural for some women to have breasts that are slightly different in size, this swelling refers to an abnormal change from your usual breast size. The swelling can also be accompanied with the feeling of heaviness in your breast, changes in skin texture on and around your breasts, and discomfort that may be felt up to your armpit.
Changes in your breast may be caused by a number of reasons, which may or may not be benign. Talk to your doctor if more than one symptom is present or if you have serious concerns about your breast pain, tenderness, or a lump. Your doctors will then evaluate your medical history, conduct a physical examination and tests if necessary. Remember, the best way to fight breast cancer is through early detection.