The most common sign of breast cancer is a new, painless lump with irregular edges. For this reason, self-breast examinations have long been touted as a good way to catch breast cancer early. While self-exams are still a good idea, some cancers do not present as lumps or the lump is painful or uncharacteristically symmetrical. Early detection is very important in breast cancer, and you have a better chance of doing that if you understand all the signs, not just the lumps.
Signs of Breast Cancer
When it comes to breast cancer, change in general should get your attention, especially if it’s only on one side. Whether it is a change in appearance, feel, or discomfort—if it is unusual for you, it is worth monitoring. One common symptom of breast cancer is discharge from the nipple (obviously, this excludes milk from breastfeeding mothers). The fluid may be clear, milky, or reddish in color and leak out on its own or when the breast is lightly pressed. Continual pain in a portion of one nipple or breast may also be a sign of something more serious. These things can be signs of benign conditions like infection or injury, so it is important not to jump to conclusions and contact your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. The takeaway is not to ignore it.
Uncommon Signs of Breast Cancer
There are some less common signs of breast cancer that you should be aware of. These include things like a breast feeling unusually warm to the touch. Cancer causes inflammation of the tissue, which can increase body temperature in a localized area. Itchiness is another early sign of breast cancer and often happens before any visual changes appear. Occasional itching is normal, but if it persists, it could mean that cellular changes are occurring below the skin.
Symptoms like scaling or dimpled skin on the breast, change in the size or shape of the breast or nipple, thickening skin, or other visual changes are all potential warning signs of breast cancer. Likewise, inverted nipples, or nipples that start to point inward or to flatten, can indicate the presence of cancer in the ducts of the nipple. Inverted nipples are especially concerning if the change happens suddenly and inexplicably. A rash on the breast that doesn’t clear up after a few days may also indicate a more serious condition. Again, these symptoms are not definite indicators of breast cancer but rather a list of possible signs that deserve attention.
Types of Cancers With Red Spots
While rashes can mean many things from less serious issues like a skin irritation or allergic reaction to more complicated conditions like bacterial or yeast infections, they can also be a sign of a very serious disease like breast cancer. Although the cancer itself is uncommon, red spots are a typical symptom of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Another abnormal quality of IBC is that is does not produce lumps like many other types of breast cancers. IBC is a more aggressive form of breast cancer that attacks the lymph system. Other symptoms of IBC include breast swelling, pain, enlargement and feeling of heaviness, general redness, and rapid changes to the skin on the breast, which usually looks pitted like an orange peel.
Another type of breast cancer that produces red spots or rash on the breast or nipple is Paget’s disease. Paget’s is more common in people over the age of fifty-five and only accounts for 1-4% of breast cancers. This type of cancer usually affects the nipple and shows early symptoms in the form of nipple inversion or discharge followed by darkening of the areola. Visible signs of Paget’s disease include dry or crusted skin, discoloration, redness, and thickened skin. Pain and itchiness can also occur. Half of the people diagnosed with Paget’s disease in the breast also have a noticeable mass accompanying these other symptoms.
This list of warning signs is not meant to make you panic but rather to inform you so that you can talk to your doctor if something concerning arises. In addition to self-exams at home, at The Breast Center, we recommend having regular mammograms and even offer 3D mammograms now. Schedule an appointment today at our Jackson or Madison locations.