Breast cancer is one of the most common diseases worldwide. This life-threatening condition affects one in eight American women and thousands of men. In 2016, it accounted for 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers. Regular screening can help detect abnormal cells in early stages and increase your chances of survival. Mammograms are the best way to identify breast tumors early when they are easier to treat.
Statistics indicate that more than 40,450 women and 464 men in the U.S. alone died from this disease in 2013. Breast cancer is the primary cause of death among Hispanic women and the second most common cause of death among Caucasian and Asian women. This form of cancer occurs when breast cells begin to grow out of control. Over time, they form tumors that can be felt as a lump.
This symptom, primarily associated with inflammatory breast cancer, is often missed. Some women may be sent home with topical medications for a rash by their doctor, when in fact they have inflammatory breast cancer.
The reason why breast might feel itchy with breast cancer is that of fast-growing cancer cells block blood and lymph vessels that feed the skin. The normal flow of lymph through breast tissues is impeded, and fluid builds up in and under the skin.
While nipple discharge can be troubling and unpleasant, again, it is usually nothing to worry about. It may simply be caused by the nipples being squeezed or may be the result of an infection.
More serious signs include:
- discharge that occurs without squeezing the nipple
- discharge in one breast and not the other
- discharge that has blood in it
Anybody that notices nipple discharge should seek medical advice.
Many women may find their breasts are lumpy. This is often because the breast is made up of tissue, which is lumpy in texture.
Lumpiness can vary widely in women’s breasts. Usually, it is nothing to worry about, particularly if it feels the same throughout both breasts.
There are other situations when it is best to get the lump checked out: These include:
- a harder lump that feels different from the rest of the breast
- a lump that feels different from the other breast
- something that feels different to how it felt before
Often these can be benign conditions, such as a cyst or fibroadenoma, which is a tumor made up of glandular and connective tissue. Fibroadenomas are most common in women in their 20s and 30s.
Upper back, shoulder, and neck pain
In some women, breast cancer is felt in the back or shoulders rather than in the chest or breasts. For this reason, spine specialists routinely look for the presence of tumors when treating chronic back pain that’s unrelieved by physical therapy. The pain, which is typically in the upper back or between the shoulder blades, is easily confused with sore muscles, a pulled tendon or ligament, or osteoarthritis of the spine. The difference is that it doesn’t go away with stretching muscles or changing position. Bone pain feels like a deep ache or throbbing.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
What to do if you spot symptoms
The American Cancer Society offers guidelines on cancer screening in adults. The majority of breast cancers in the United States (U.S.) are found in their early stages, before symptoms appear, thanks in part to the use of mammograms. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that checks for cancer. Also, taking an auto-exam often is also very helpful.
The guidelines are as follows:
- Women aged 40 to 44 can start having mammograms if they wish.
- Women aged 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year.
- Women over 55 should have a mammogram every two years but can have one annually if they wish.
However, mammography does not find all breast cancers. So individuals should talk to a doctor to identify the best screening process for them. Learn here what you can do to reduce cancer risk.
Anyone who has any concern that they might have breast cancer should go and see their doctor.