As with many types of cancer, breast cancer is most successfully treated when it is detected early. Over the previous quarter century, death rates for breast cancer have been on the decline, a positive development that Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing reliable, complete and up-to-date information about breast cancer, suggests is a byproduct of the heightened awareness of breast cancer over the last 25 years and the increasing emphasis placed on breast cancer screening.
Understanding the symptoms of breast cancer also can help women battle and defeat this potentially deadly disease. While the presence of any of the following symptoms does not necessarily mean breast cancer is present, the appearance of the following should be enough to inspire women and even men to visit their physicians for thorough examinations and screenings.
• Changes in the feeling of the breast or nipple: A change in how the breast or nipple feels could be indicative of a larger problem. If the nipple is especially tender and this persists for an extended period of time, exercise caution and discuss this change with your physician. Similarly, if a lump or thickening develops on or near the breast or underarms, speak with your physician.
• Changes in appearance of the breast: A lump or thickening in the breast may affect the appearance of the breast. Another visible symptom of breast cancer is a change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast, which may appear similar to dimpling, not unlike an orange peel. Swelling or shrinking of the breast, especially when such symptoms appear on just one breast, may also indicate breast cancer. In addition, some women with breast cancer notice a sudden asymmetry with their breasts despite their breasts previously being symmetrical, and such a development should immediately be brought to the attention of a physician.
• Changes in the appearance of the nipple: A nipple that appears different also may be a sign of breast cancer. Some women with breast cancer have noticed a nipple turned slightly inward or inverted prior to their breast cancer diagnosis. Skin of the nipple, as well as that of the breast and areola, which is the dark circle of skin around the nipple, may also become red, scaly or swollen when breast cancer is present.
• Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple: Women who are breastfeeding often notice a milky discharge from their nipple after breastfeeding. Such discharges are normal. However, when a woman who is not breastfeeding notices the presence of a clear or bloody discharge from her nipple, such a development should be brought to the attention of a physician.
Any of these signs and symptoms may be a sign of infection or the presence of a cyst, both of which are less severe than the presence of breast cancer. But the success rates of treating cancers that are detected early is such that any potential symptom of breast cancer warrants an immediate discussion with a physician.