Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease in the world that affects both men and women. The chances of getting the disease increase as you age, but detecting it at an early stage could be life-saving. In this article I am going to discuss uncommon signs and symptoms of breast cancer that many people overlook.
The majority of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in people who are aged 40 and up, but in the instances where it affects younger people it tends to be more aggressive. This makes early detection an essential part of treating the disease within its onset stages.
It’s important to have a firm grasp of bodily knowledge, as the earliest stages of breast cancer usually come without pain. The most common indicator is the discovery of a lump, but cancer goes through multiple progressive stages before these lumps form. It may sometimes take years for lumps to develop, so people shouldn’t rely solely on lumps to indicate breast cancer, as they usually indicate an already progressive disease.
There are several signs that the American Cancer Society claim should be analyzed closely by a specialist. It is important to remember that these signs aren’t definitive proof of existing breast cancer. They can sometimes indicate smaller hormonal or health factors, so visiting an expert can clear any ambiguity. Some of the more obvious signs are:
- Change in breast structure
- Appearance of lumps
- Changes in the skin or nipple
Here are a few of the sneakier breast cancer indicators that many people overlook:
1. Itchy breast, redness and pain
The American Cancer Society mentions that while the most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump, other possible symptoms include skin irritation and dimpling, as well as redness, scaliness or thickening of the breast skin.1
It’s common for breasts to be sore and sensitive during menstruation, but this symptom could mean something more serious if the sensitivity persists after that period. There may also be swelling involved with skin that is warm to the touch, indicating the less common (about 3% of cases) forms of inflammatory breast cancer.
Cancer Research UK says that itchy breasts can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, however this is very rare. With this type of cancer, the area of skin over the tumor can become red, inflamed, painful and itchy.2
Inflammatory cancer may also cause swelling and pain in the chest. The skin may look scaly or have small blue marks similar to hemorrhages, somewhat like cellulite holes on the breast. Doctors on WebMD say that a reddish, pitted surface like the skin of an orange could be a sign of advanced breast cancer. They also mention a marble-like area under the skin or indentation on the breast, which may indicate a tumor that cannot be seen or felt.3
Some women misunderstand the above symptoms for an allergic reaction on their breasts. But it’s important to know that according to The National Cancer Institute, inflammatory breast cancer is characterized by a rapid development, with blocking lymph vessels in the skin of the breast which cause redness, warmth and sensitivity.4
2. Back pain
Patients may feel back pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades before any other sign of breast cancer reveals itself. The discomfort is usually attributed to muscle pain, inflammation of the spine or stretching the tendon and ligaments in the back.
It’s important to know that tumors will sometimes develop deep within the breast tissue of the chest and felt in the spine or ribcage. There is also the possibility of metasis, a malignant spreading of the disease to the ribs or spine. For example, The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports about a patient who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and suffered from a severe back pain.5
The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association reported that metastatic bone disease secondary to breast cancer is a common cause of low back pain. The report stressed the need for further imaging in patients with a history of breast cancer and whose physical examination and plain film radiographs are inconclusive or suspicious.6
3. Pain and tenderness in the armpit
According to studies, the first place breast cancer spreads to is the axillary lymph nodes (or armpit lymph nodes). The axillary lymph nodes indicate breast cancer in the same way the lymph nodes in the neck and throat indicate a flu, making the axillaries an essential place for onset discovery. The journal of Clinical Oncology reported about the significance of axillary lymph node metastasis in primary breast cancer saying that axillary lymph node status is the single most important prognostic variable in the management of patients with primary breast cancer.7
The American Cancer Society says that sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.1 Therefore any pain or discomfort in the armpit is something that should definitely be tested and you should also be aware of the other causes of armpit pain.
The first thing to do is to compare the painful armpit to the other armpit. If the difference is persistently evident, it’s worth consulting an expert.
There is sometimes a hard lump that appears in the armpit and tissue surrounding it that won’t move when touched. There may also be tissue that is thicker and dense when compared with the other armpit. A sore spot could indicate many things that aren’t a tumor. But it never hurts to be safe and get a medical evaluation, as the underarm tissue does have a close connection to breast tissue.
Is armpit itching a sign of breast cancer?
The charity Cancer Research UK says that a rash and itching is more likely to be eczema or another skin condition rather than cancer. In very rare cases itchy armpits can be a sign of breast cancer, for example, inflammatory breast cancer, but it is usually accompanied by other symptoms.12
4. Nipple discharge or changes
One of the most common locations of breast cancer is beneath the nipple. The presence of a cancerous lesion may cause changes in appearance and sensitivity of the nipple. Different texture, color and shape might occur. The nipple may also feel much more tender and have an unusual texture. Some women describe a lack of sensitivity within the nipple, especially during intimate relations.
The American Cancer Society mentions nipple pain, nipple retraction (nipple that turns inward) and redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple as possible signs of breast cancer.1 WebMD also mentions itching, a burning sensation, or ulceration in the nipple.3
A discharge of clear liquid, blood, or milk that doesn’t happen during breast feeding might also be a sign of breast cancer. According to WebMD, unusual discharge from the nipple is usually caused by benign conditions, but may also indicate breast cancer in some cases, in which the discharge can be clear, bloody, or another color.3
This happens when a tumor forms in the milk duct on the nipple or behind it. When this happens the skin jostles to one side, allowing the tumor to cause irritation and inflammation that results in an unusual discharge from the nipple. Medical evaluation and followups are needed for early detection, but it is important to remember that many tumors are harmless.
The Mayo Clinic also mentions Paget’s disease of the breast which is a rare form of breast cancer. Paget’s disease of the breast starts on the nipple and extends to the dark circle of skin around the nipple (areola). Mayo clinic reports that it’s easy to mistake the signs and symptoms of Paget’s disease of the breast for skin irritation (dermatitis) or another noncancerous (benign) skin condition.8
5. Breast changing shape
Many women around the world believe that an easily visible and touchable lump close to the surface of the skin is a sign of a breast tumor. Far less women, however, report the fact that one breast has taken on an elliptical shape while the other remains normal.
Other women have reported the progression of breast tissue on one side of the breast, looking uneven. Some women notice a change in appearance and feel when they put a bra on. Many times it’s the spouse that notices these physical indicators instead of the patient.
The NHS says that a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts should be checked by your doctor.9
WebMD mentions that some of the signs of breast cancer are change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast, as well as an area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.3
Breast cancer Foundation NZ mentions that the change in the shape or size of your breast can include unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, particularly in just one breast.10
How to Preform Breast Self-Exam at Home
There has been some debate over the years regarding just how valuable breast self exam is in detecting the early stages of breast cancer and increasing the rate of survival. However many breast cancer organizations still believe that breast self exam is a useful strategy, especially when combined with regular physical exams by a doctor and screening methods.
The best way to detect the changes that aren’t associated with pain or strange sensations is by learning about the appearance and size of your breasts. Breast cancer organizations recommend sitting in front of a mirror and examine the structure of the breast. Use your hands to lift the breast and check the variability of skin stretching on both sides.
Don’t forget to do this often to make sure you don’t miss any sudden changes in appearance. Any of these symptoms should be analyzed by a medical professional for a conclusive diagnosis. If you are not professionally examined, you’ll be left in a worrying state of uncertainty. Hopefully everything is fine, but even if it isn’t, detecting breast cancer in the earlier stages could very well make your chances for survival exponentially better.
What is the best time to perform breast self-exam?
Many breast cancer organizations recommend to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. It is recommended to examine yourself several days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender.11
Step by step guide on how to perform breast self exam at home:
Look at your breasts in the mirror – Position your shoulders straight and place your arms on your hips. See if your breasts have their usual size, shape, color and whether they have visible swelling or change in shape. Check that they don’t have dimpling or puckering of the skin, or that they became red, sore, swollen or have rash. Also check your nipples to see if they became inverted (pushed inward) or changed their position.
Raise your arms and look for the same changes. Squeeze the nipple and check if fluid comes out of one or both nipples. The discharge can be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood.
Check your breast when lying down – Use your right hand to feel your left breast and then vice versa. When feeling your breast with your hands, keep your fingers together and use the first few finger pads applying small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Check yourself in the shower – Many women find that it is easier to check for changes in the breast when their hands are wet and slippery with soap and water. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements as when lying down and check for any lumps or thickening in your underarm area too.
If you find something suspicious with your breast – don’t panic, as most of the lumps are not cancerous and many breast changes are not associated with cancer, but for your own peace of mind call your doctor if you have any concerns.
Originally Published: http://www.healthyandnaturalworld.com/5-unconventional-signs-of-breast-cancer/