The discovery of a lump in the breast is often the first indication that a woman may have breast cancer and needs to be seen by her health care provider right away. But just as a lump does not always signal breast cancer, sometimes breast cancer doesn’t cause a lump. It’s important to be aware of other indications that a woman may have the disease.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among American women (only lung cancer accounts for more deaths annually). The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in the United States more than 300,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year and that about 40,000 women will die from this disease. A woman living in the U.S. has a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime.
The ACS recommends women have yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. Women in their 20s should begin having clinical breast exams (CBEs) performed by a health care professional every three years. Beginning at age 40, a CBE should be performed every year.
As with all types of cancer, early detection improves the likelihood of surviving breast cancer. That is why every woman should also make it a habit to perform a self-examination once a month. That way she will be familiar with how her healthy breasts look and feel. Some breast tissue is normally lumpy or is bumpy in texture. While a new lump can be a symptom of breast cancer and is the symptom most women are aware of, it could turn out to be nothing. The only way to find out is to have it checked promptly. What is most important when examining the breasts is change. Anything that is different from the previous month, no matter how small, should not be ignored. Men should also heed this rule of thumb, since they can get breast cancer as well.
If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment immediately with your health care provider:
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area that you have not felt before
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that does not go away
Most of the time, these changes will prove not to be breast cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to be checked by a health care provider. If it turns out you do have breast cancer, the sooner treatment begins, the better your chances for beating the disease and the sooner you can go back to living life without cancer.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]