Unlike many diseases, where the first hint is often pain or discomfort, breast cancer may produce no symptoms at all. You may find a lump during a routine self-exam, but it's more likely that, in the early stages of breast cancer, a lump will be too small for you to feel. That's why mammograms, or x-rays of the breasts, are a critical component of breast care.
Sometimes, however, there are signs you should not ignore. Be sure to contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- A new lump or mass in the breast. When it comes to cancer, nothing is absolute. Most of the time a malignant tumor will be hard with uneven edges. However, cancerous lumps also can be soft and round.
- Dimpling: A skin irritation or an indented dimple
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward: Unless you are nursing, nipple changes are not normal. This includes thickening of the nipple or discharge, other than breast milk.
Some less common symptoms include:
- Pain: While cancerous lumps usually are painless, they sometimes can be tender to the touch.
- Swelling: At various times of the month, it's natural for breasts to feel fuller. However, swelling of the entire breast or even part of it that does not change during the cycle, is not normal.
- Redness or rash on the skin or scaliness of the nipple: These types of visual clues should always be checked out.
- A lump in the underarm area: All lumps should be checked and cleared by a physician.
Often, these changes do not signal cancer. You may have a cyst, infection or other minor problem. That's why it's important to keep up with routine self-exams and mammograms as prescribed by your doctor. Reporting any breast changes to your doctor is an important component of early detection.