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10 warning signs of breast cancer

By Dr ARCHANA DHAWAN BAJAJ
November 05, 2020 11:58 IST
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Any form of discharge from the nipple can definitely be a warning sign, at any stage of breast cancer, says Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj.

IMAGE: Breast cancer survivor Tahira Kashyap posted this image on World Cancer Day to raise awareness about breast cancer and to break the stigma around the illness. Photograph: Kind courtesy Tahira Kashyap

Breast cancer is by far the most common invasive cancer in women.

Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women.

After ovarian cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the India and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.

Research funding and support for breast cancer awareness has helped create advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

Over the years, the survival rates have increased dramatically. The number of deaths due to the disease is declining steadily largely due to factors such as early detection, better understanding of the disease and an all new personalised treatment towards the disease.

Any form of cancer including breast cancer needs to be curtailed in its early stages for the best possible prognosis.

And for this it is important that we know how the normal breast looks and feels as we can self-examine multiple symptoms at an early stage.

While the importance of regular screening tests for breast cancer cannot be ruled out, it is also a known fact that mammograms do not find every breast cancer.

There are different types of breast cancer and each of its type can cause a variety of symptoms.

While some of these symptoms are similar, few can be different. Listed below are the symptoms for the most common breast cancers:

1. Skin changes with the Breast

Pay close attention to how the skin of your chest looks.

Breast cancer cause changes and inflammation in skin cells that to texture changes.

The skin may begin to feel itchy, scaly around the nipple. It might stretch the skin to one side or expand in specific areas.

Any visible change to the skin and look of the breast should be a concern.

2. Change in size of breast/s

In the early stages the breast may look completely normal in shape and size, even though it might have cancerous cells present in it.

The underarm area of the same side of the body may also get affected by swelling. The lymph nodes under the arm turns cancerous.

It usually extends beyond period-related swelling and generally just affects one side of the chest.

3. Swelling of your breast

Breast cancer can result in swelling of the entire breast or it could be a small area that swells.

A distinct lump may not be present after this swelling but the size of the breast may be different than the other.

While it is completely normal for people to have breasts that vary slightly in size at all times, this swelling would cause a change from their usual breast size.

4. Lump in the breast or underarm

A lump or a growth in the breast, this is usually the first symptom of breast cancer.

At times lumps cannot be felt until cancer has developed into its last stages, which is why it is so important for women over 40 to have regular checkups.

5. A welt on the breast

A thickening of the skin that almost looks like a welt where you got hit can actually be a sign of a different form of the cancer called inflammatory breast cancer.

6. A flat or indented nipple area on your breast

Cancer cells can cause a formation of lymph fluid in the breast that leads to swelling and dimpling.

This change in the skin's appearance 'peau d'orange' because the dimpled skin looks like the surface of an orange.

7. Discharge from the nipple

Any form of discharge from the nipple can definitely be a warning sign, at any stage of breast cancer.

It could be bloody, clear or yellow in color and it can be in any form like liquid or thick mucus with pain from the area of secretion.

8. Pain

As the tumour in breast grows, the pain increases simultaneously.

It can also cause very painful ulcers and skin scrapes. Some may cause a prickly feeling or an extreme pain near the nipple area.

9. Flaking of skin on your nipple or breast

While flaking or thickening of the breast or nipple could be a result of infection or irritation, it can result from breast cancer as well.

Before you draw your own conclusions, it is best to get checked by a skin specialist or gynaecologist as soon as possible.

10. Inverted nipple

Nipple inverting and reversing inward into the breast are caused by cell changes behind the nipple.

While ovulation or other parts of the menstrual cycle can often alter the appearance of the nipples, it could also result from cancer of the breast.

It is rightly believed that a nick in time saves nine. Be conscious of the minor changes in your body that may have long term consequences. 

If you spot any of the above changes, it is best to consult an expert or your family practitioner and get tested.

Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj is a gynecologist, obstetrician and IVF Expert at Nurture IVF Centre, Delhi.

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