Find us on Facebook
More keeppies by Priyanka
Warning Signs of Breast Cancer by Priyanka ,  Jul 25, 2013

Breast cancer is a type of cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk.[1] Cancers originating from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas, while those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas. Breast cancer occurs in humans and other mammals. While the overwhelming majority of human cases occur in women, male breast cancer can also occur.[2]

The benefit versus harms of breast cancer screening is controversial. The characteristics of the cancer determine the treatment, which may include surgery, medications (hormonal therapy and chemotherapy), radiation and/or immunotherapy.[3] Surgery provides the single largest benefit, and to increase the likelihood of cure, several chemotherapy regimens are commonly given in addition. Radiation is used after breast-conserving surgery and substantially improves local relapse rates and in many circumstances also overall survival.

What causes breast cancer?

There are many risk factors that increase the chance of developing breast cancer. Although we know some of these risk factors, we don't know how these factors cause the development of a cancer cell.

What are breast cancer risk factors?

Some of the breast cancer risk factors can be modified (such as alcohol use) while others cannot be influenced (such as age). It is important to discuss these risks with your health care professional any time new therapies are started (for example, postmenopausal hormone therapy).

The following are risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Age: The chances of breast cancer increase as you get older.
  • Family history: The risk of breast cancer is higher among women who have relatives with the disease. Having a close relative with the disease (sister, mother, or daughter) doubles a woman's risk.
  • Personal history: Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast increases the risk of cancer in the other breast or the chance of an additional cancer in the original breast.
  • Women diagnosed with certain benign breast conditions have an increased risk of breast cancer. These include atypical hyperplasia, a condition in which there is abnormal proliferation of breast cells but no cancer has developed.
  • Menstruation: Women who started their menstrual cycle at a younger age (before 12) or went through menopause later (after 55) have a slightly increased risk.
  • Breast tissue: Women with dense breast tissue (as documented by mammogram) have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Race: White women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but African-American women tend to have more aggressive tumors when they do develop breast cancer.
  • Exposure to previous chest radiation or use of diethylstilbestrol increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Having no children or the first child after age 30 increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Breastfeeding for 1 ½ to 2 years might slightly lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Use of oral contraceptives in the last 10 years increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol use increases the risk of breast cancer, and this seems to be proportional to the amount of alcohol used.
  • Exercise seems to lower the risk of breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, any of the following unusual changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:

  • swelling of all or part of the breast
  • skin irritation or dimpling
  • breast pain
  • nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • a nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • a lump in the underarm area

These changes also can be signs of less serious conditions that are not cancerous, such as an infection or a cyst. It’s important to get any breast changes checked out promptly by a doctor.

The following are some of the commonest symptoms in the breast that a woman may have. More than 90% of such symptoms may be due of benign breast disease, but many of them need to be evaluated by a doctor, for treatment as well as there is a small chance that some of these symptoms could be the first sign of an underlying cancer. So, be alert!

  • Appearance: Any change in the appearance of breasts should be noticed. Usually in a woman, the two breasts are symmetrical.

  • Bumps: Any contoural change in the breast or any lump/ bump noticed needs immediate doctor's consultation. Lumps may be benign or malignant i.e cancerous.

  • Colour and texture: Discolouration of skin over the breast or changes in texture, making it thick, may be due to infection/ inflammatory condition and very rarely due a so called 'inflammatory breast cancer'.

  • Discharge from the nipple: Discharge from the nipple may also occur in benign conditions, but a blood stained discharge from the nipple is not a good sign, and may be an indicator of an underlying cancer.

  • Excoriations: Excoriations are seen as erosions occuring in nipple and are commonly seen during lactation. If they occur in older age group, they must be brought to a doctor's attention. They can occur in a form of cancer called as 'Paget's' disease of the breast

  • Feeling of discomfort: Discomfort or pain in one breast that is different to what is normal for you.

  • Gynecomastia: This is an enlargement of male breasts. It occurs because of hormonal imbalance and is seen during puberty with second peak after 50yrs.

  • HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy): Women taking a HRT are at a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer, and must visit doctor regularly.

  • Lump: During breast self examination, regularly assess and feel for any new lump or a nodule.

  • Mastalgia: Mastalgia is pain in the breasts. This is more a symptom of young and adolescent women, occurs before the periods. Mastalgia does not usually occur in a cancer.

  • Nipple: Nipple may be a source of symptoms for some women. Like for example, a nipple discharge which is new and not milky, needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Bleeding or moist red areas around the nipple which don't heal easily may be a sign of an underlying cancer. Watch out for the direction of the nipple. Normally, in a women's upright position with hands by the side, the nipple points downwards and outwards. Any change in the position of the nipple, like if it is being pulled 'in' or points in a different direction, must promptly be reported to a doctor.

  • Skin: During regular examination, the skin over the breast must be paid special attention to. In some advanced cancers, the skin over the breast becomes like the 'peel' of the fruit orange. Sometimes, if the skin is tethered to the underlying cancer, there will be 'puckering' of the skin.

Any one of these five lesser-known symptoms of breast cancer is important enough to send you straight to the doctor for a checkup, followed by a mammogram or MRI if recommended.

1. Itchy, sore, or reddened breasts

Skin that feels rashy or hot to the touch is one of the telltale signs of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of the disease that's less well known than the more common breast tumors. Inflammatory breast cancer may cause breasts to become swollen and irritated or sore. The skin may be unusually red or scaly, or you may notice purplish areas that look like bruising. Dimpled or "orange peel" skin is characteristic in some cases of inflammatory breast cancer. "It looked like I suddenly had cellulite on my breasts," is how one woman described this sudden change in skin texture, which may be bumpy or indented.

At first, the achy feeling may mimic the soreness typical of PMS, or the redness and itchiness might suggest an allergic skin reaction. But you'll know that's not it if it doesn't go away after a few days.

Why it happens: In inflammatory breast cancer, which makes up just 3 percent of all breast cancer cases, fast-growing cancer cells block blood vessels that feed the skin. Because red, itchy, hot skin is typical of inflammatory breast cancer, it's often mistaken for mastitis or infection of the milk ducts around the nipple.

2. Upper back pain

Although it's not well known, spine specialists routinely look for the presence of tumors, because some women experience back pain before any other sign of breast cancer. The pain, which is typically in the upper back between the shoulder blades, is easily confused with sore muscles, a pulled tendon or ligament, or osteoarthritis of the spine.

Why it happens: Most breast tumors develop in the glandular tissue of the breast, which extends deep into the chest, close to the chest wall. If tumor growth pushes backward toward the ribs and spine, the resulting pain may be felt in the back rather than in the breast. Breast cancer also tends to metastasize or spread to the spine or ribs, becoming secondary bone cancer.

3. Nipple changes

One of the most common locations for a breast tumor is just underneath the nipple, which can cause changes in the appearance and feel of the nipple itself. And nipple changes are often the giveaway for men with breast cancer. You may notice that one of your nipples sticks up less than it used to. It may even appear uncharacteristically inverted or flattened. Many women also notice a decrease in sensitivity to touch, most likely to come to your attention -- or your partner's attention -- during sex. Another nipple change to take seriously is discharge when you're not breastfeeding, whether it's bloody, milky, or watery. The skin of the nipple may become crusty, scaly, or inflamed.

Why it happens: A tumor in the milk ducts, just behind the nipple or to one side, pushes the skin up around the nipple or pushes the nipple aside. As tumors grow, they may attach to -- and thus retract -- the skin or the nipple itself. The tumor may cause irritation and infection, leading to discharge.

4. A change in the shape or size of one breast

Contrary to popular belief, not all breast tumors cause a hard lump close enough to the surface to be noticeable. "Instead of feeling a lump, I noticed that one of my breasts was more oval than the other, hanging down lower and sort of sticking out to one side," says a California woman, who discovered she had breast cancer at the age of 42. The best way to spot these types of changes is to study the size and shape of your breasts in a mirror. Sit facing the mirror and look at both breasts dead-on, then raise your arms, turn sideways, and look from each side. Do both breasts look the same, or is there a difference in size or shape you haven't noticed before? Interestingly, some women spot this change when they notice that one side of their bra feels tighter. Or a partner may notice the difference during sex and bring it to your attention.

Why it happens: Tissue growth that's deeper in the breast or masked by dense breast tissue may push out the shape or size of the breast without causing a noticeable lump. If you've been told you have dense breast tissue, be particularly alert for this sign.

5. Pain, swelling, or a lump in your armpit

You know how the lymph nodes in your neck and throat can feel sore when you have the flu? The same thing happens to the lymph nodes in your armpit, because that's where breast cancer spreads first, by way of lymphatic fluid that drains from the breast. Affected lymph nodes may feel swollen or tender or develop a lump before a tumor is big enough to be felt in the breast itself. Any pain in the armpit area is a sign to check the area carefully with your fingers. A lump under the armpit is likely to be hard and attached to surrounding tissues, so it doesn't move when you touch it. Or tissue may feel thickened and dense compared with the armpit on the other side.

Why it happens: The lymph nodes in the armpit are the closest ones to the breast and can therefore be affected by lymphatic fluid that drains from the area. As breast cancer spreads, this is the first place it's like to metastasize, which is why breast cancer is staged according to whether it's lymph-node positive or negative.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
  • Bloody discharge from the nipple
  • Change in the size or shape of a breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
  • Inverted nipple
  • Peeling, scaling or flaking of the nipple or breast skin
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange

When to see a doctor If you find a lump or other change in your breast — even if a recent mammogram was normal — make an appointment with your doctor.

Breast Awareness in Men

Men can get breast cancer too - While it is rare, around 340 are diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year.

Be vigilant and look out for:

  • Swelling or painless lumps in breast tissue, often towards the nipple
  • Nipples that are tender, turned in or producing discharge
  • Swelling underneath armpits