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Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer after skin cancer among American women. Based on current incidence rates, about one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. But knowing what to look for can help you be proactive when it comes to detecting breast cancer so you can have a better outcome.

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass. It is usually hard, painless and has uneven edges. Some lumps, however, can be soft and rounded. We recommend you contact your physician – a primary care doctor or a gynecologist – if you find a lump so it can be evaluated. Not all lumps are cancerous, so try not to panic. Finding out as quickly as possible can ease your mind. And if it is cancer, you’ll be that much closer to recovery.

Additional warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer can be easily detectable – if you know what to look for. If you notice one or more of these or anything out of the ordinary, you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible with your doctor. Other common signs and symptoms of breast cancer to be aware of include: 

  • Warm, red, irritated and/or itchy breasts. These are among the most common early warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Scaliness. Healthy breast skin is smooth. If yours is scaly or inflamed, that's a red flag.
  • Nipple discharge. With the exception of breast milk that may leak from breasts during or after pregnancy, any nipple discharge should be examined by a doctor. A clear or bloody discharge may indicate that cancer is present.
  • Flat or inverted nipple. Some women have naturally inverted nipples. However, if you begin experiencing unusual nipple retraction, or they begin turning inward, have it checked by a doctor.
  • Change in breast size or shape. Several women have one breast that's larger than the other, which is completely normal. However, any new change in breast size or shape – especially in just one breast – can be an indication of cancer.
  • Changes in skin texture. Rashes and/or puckering or dimpling on the breast could be a sign of breast cancer. Skin changes related to breast cancer may resemble the rough skin of an orange peel.
  • Lump or swelling around breast, collarbone, or armpit. Swelling or lumps in the areas surrounding your breasts can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes. You may see this before you can feel a lump in your breast.

What's Normal?

Understanding what breast changes are typically considered normal is just as important as understanding the red flags that could indicate breast cancer. Periodic breast pain, tenderness, and heaviness are common throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. If you experience these feelings in both breasts and are menstruating or about to begin your cycle, these symptoms are most likely the result of normal, monthly hormonal changes in your body.

When to Get Checked for Breast Cancer

Early detection is key. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, or if you're having pain at times other than the start of your menstrual cycle, you should consider talking with your doctor about a mammogram screening. Typically, your gynecologist, will examine you and then refer you for a mammogram. Mammograms effectively detect 84% of breast cancers; so when you're given a clean bill of health you can set your mind at ease. If your mammogram detects a suspicious mass, you will likely need further evaluation so a diagnosis can be made. If you do have breast cancer, you can expect a better outcome, because the earlier cancer treatment begins, the better the patient outcomes usually are. For your convenience, we have 5 office locations in the Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA areas. If you want to be examined by a breast cancer specialist, contact us at Compass Oncology today.

Compass Oncology - The US Oncology Network