When most people think of breast cancer, they probably imagine the telltale sign of a lump in or around the breast that’s most commonly associated with the disease. But a lump isn’t the only way you can tell whether or not you may be afflicted, and it’s important to know the other signs so you can catch the cancer before it’s too late.
According to the American Cancer Society, early detection has contributed to a 39 percent decline in breast cancer deaths in women from 1989 to 2015, proving that recognizing other symptoms of breast cancer could just save your life.
On top of that, familiarizing yourself with additional signs of breast cancer can help you distinguish between the disease and less life-threatening conditions. For the health and safety of women (and men – yes, it happens) everywhere, here are five warning signs your breasts are in danger.
You experience redness or flaking skin
While redness or flakiness on your chest could be the result of minor skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or heat rash, it can also be a sign of something more serious, like Paget’s disease. Paget’s disease of the breast is a rare form of cancer that typically affects the skin of the nipple as well as the areola, or darker skin around it.
Most people with Paget’s disease also have one or more tumors within their breast. While the disease primarily affects women, it can also affect men, and treatment may require a full or partial mastectomy.
Your breasts are swollen
Breast swelling is most often the result of hormonal changes caused by premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or pregnancy. But if your breasts are swollen and you’re not expecting a period or a baby, it could be something more serious.
Swollen breasts can be an indicator of fibrocystic breast disease or fibroadenoma of the breast, both of which cause benign (noncancerous) tumors in the breast. Swollen breasts may also be a sign of mastitis, an infection of the breast ducts that occurs almost exclusively in breastfeeding women. In rare cases, it is a symptom of breast cancer.
You have nipple discharge
A little nipple discharge can be a completely normal occurrence if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. But if you’re experience this phenomenon and you aren’t a new mom, it could be a cause for concern.
Nipple discharge, especially if it is bloody or takes on a different color, could be the result of several conditions, including mastitis, Paget’s disease, fibrocystic breasts, prolactinoma (a condition caused by a benign tumor in the pituitary gland), and mammary duct ectasia (a blocked or clogged milk duct beneath the nipple that affects women of perimenopausal age).
Your breasts feel warm
If your chest feels hot or your breasts are warm to the touch, it could be a sign of something serious going on beneath the surface. This particular symptom is usually caused by inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC will cause the breast to become red, swollen, and warm.
The skin may also take on the pitted appearance of an orange peel, and nipple inversion, flattening, or dimpling can occur. Treatment for this condition usually begins with chemotherapy before moving on to more aggressive forms of treatment.
Your breasts hurt
There are a wide variety of causes for breast pain, but thankfully, the pain is not usually a sign of breast cancer, according to the Breast Cancer Foundation. But just because the pain isn’t caused by cancer doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.
Breast pain can be a sign of sickle cell anemia, a peptic ulcer (a sore in the digestive lining), pleurisy (inflammation of the lung lining), fibromyalgia, and even pulmonary embolism (a condition where a blood clot blocks one or more arteries). However, it’s more likely that your breast pain is being caused by something minor, like stress, too much caffeine, or an injury.
Whether you feel that these symptoms apply to you or not, you should give yourself breast exams regularly, and even study your breasts in the mirror. When you know how your breasts look and feel normally, you’re more likely to be aware when something changes or isn’t right. If you’re worried about your symptoms or have any questions, you should speak with your doctor.
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