There's no denying the statistics about breast cancer are daunting:
- About 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 63,410 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is noninvasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
- About 40,610 women will die from breast cancer.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women (only lung cancer kills more women each year).
* American Cancer Society estimates for 2017.
These stark and concerning numbers are a call to action for all women, but there is hope. With early detection and intervention, the chances of surviving breast cancer increase dramatically. Almost all of those patients whose cancers are discovered in the first and second stages survive.
In fact, breast cancer death rates in women older than 50 have decreased since 2007, thanks in large part to screening, increased awareness, and improvements in treatments.
The key is knowing your body and detecting any changes as early as possible. Regular self-breast exams can help you detect these changes and could mean the difference between facing a positive treatment plan or receiving a much more staggering diagnosis.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it's a great time to remind women to look out for the following symptoms of breast cancer:
1. Changes in how your breast feels
The most commonly discussed symptom of breast cancer is a lump in the breast. Please remember, it's important to have any lump you find examined by a medical professional. Not all lumps are cancerous, but it's best to make certain.
Changes in the feel of your breast may take many different forms. You may notice a thickening in or near the breast. The texture of the skin might change or your pores might enlarge drastically.
2. Changes in your breast's appearance
It's common for women to have one breast that's a bit larger than the other. However, if you notice a recent asymmetry in your breasts, you should consult a medical professional. You should also see your doctor if you have any unusual swelling in your breasts, especially just one breast, or if one of your breasts shrinks in size.
Skin changes may also indicate a problem. If the skin of your breast becomes red, swollen, scaly, or takes on a pitted texture that resembles the skin of an orange, please see your doctor. While some women have naturally inverted nipples, those who do not should speak to a doctor if one nipple should invert or turn inward.
3. Discharge from your nipples
If you are not breastfeeding a child, a milky discharge from your nipple should be discussed with your doctor. It may not indicate cancer, but a medical professional should examine you as it could also indicate an infection, a benign tumor, or an injury.
Any bloody discharge should be checked out by a doctor right away.
4. Swelling in your underarm or collarbone
It may seem strange to consider a swelling in your underarm as a sign of a cancer in your breast. However, cancers can spread to lymph nodes in both areas. This swelling may occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast.
5. An area that's very different from any other area on your breasts
Breast cancer might not manifest itself with symptoms that exactly fit those described here. You might instead notice something different about one breast, such as a different consistency to the tissue or a strange puckering. If you find an area in one of your breasts that concerns you, don't hesitate to ask your doctor.
If You’re Concerned, Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your healthcare provider about your family health history and about his or her recommendations for early detection. Regular check-ups with your doctor are an important part of breast cancer prevention.
For more information on potential causes or breast cancer, along with tips on how to reduce your risks and types of treatments available for those who've received a diagnosis, the American Cancer Society has a wealth of information and resources available specific to breast cancer.