By Dr RV Thenmozhi
The biggest tool for fighting against Breast Cancer is awareness. If diagnosed early, breast cancer can be treated successfully. Being a woman and growing older could be the only risk factors of Breast Cancer. Yes, the disease can really get around so easily making almost the entire women population especially aged 40 and above most vulnerable. Understanding and reading the signs of Breast Cancer early on can be done if you know the below symptoms.
- Discharge of unusual liquid from any nipple: Discharge from the nipple is normal for women who are in their reproductive phase especially during pregnancy or lactation. This discharge is usually cloudy, whitish or colourless and does not warrant any attention. Some women also have discharge due to sexual arousal or stress. However, when the discharge is pink, bloody or of any other colour and comes from only one breast accompanied by any lump or swelling. Besides this, if you see pus, then it is important to visit the doctor immediately.
- Rash or crusting around the nipple: A rash with itching or irritation, flakiness or crusting of the nipple can also be a sign of breast cancer. While there could be other reasons for this symptom like just skin rash due to clothing irritation or conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Nipple rash or crusting is also a symptom of Inflammatory Breast cancer where the cancer cell gets into the lymph vessels and drains the skin on the breast. However, this is most of the time also accompanied by red and swollen breasts, thickened skin and irritation.
- A lump or swelling: This is one of the most important symptoms of Breast Cancer. Many a time the lump is not seen but it can be felt. This lump or swelling is sometimes felt in the upper chest or armpit too. However, they are all not cancerous and could be due to necrosis (death of a fat cell) or they could be cysts which are benign or non-cancerous. Cysts are usually fluid-filled sacs in the breast. A self- examination is a great way to detect lumps and any other symptoms like redness, discharge or crusting along with a lump need the attention of the doctor immediately. Lumps or bumps just under you nipple also need a consultation with the doctor.
- Change in the colour of the breast: The most evident and critical sign. This must immediately be attended to by visiting your gynaecologist. If this sign is accompanied by pain or tenderness of the breast along with swelling or discharge, it should not be ignored.
- Puckering or Dimpling of the skin: The skin on your breasts are tender and any dimples or small folds or wrinkles on the skin can be easily noticed. Sometimes there could be no other symptoms along with this. Dimpling and puckering of the skin on the breast may be due to the growth of a tumour or because of inflammatory breast cancer. However, this may not be true in every case and you need the reassurance of a general practitioner along with diagnosis to confirm this.
- Changes in the direction of the nipple/inversion: Changes in the direction, appearance, shape or texture of the nipple can be due to a number of things. Some of these changes are temporary and they can be due to temperature or as a reaction to touch. Age can also change the direction or appearance of the nipples and these are normal changes. However, a sudden or unexpected change warrants the attention of a physician.
- Change in the size and shape of the breast: Breasts can nipples can also swell as a response to the menstrual cycle. It is important to also look for a change in the size and shape of your breast, these changes are noticeable as one breast may appear normal and there could be a disfiguration or change in the size of the other breast. It becomes more visible over time. However, it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible. Breast cancer can cause asymmetrical changes suddenly or gradually.
Remember, noticing any of these symptoms does not mean you have breast cancer. 90% of breast lumps are benign. October is the month of Breast Cancer awareness, and the only thing we need to fight against breast cancer is knowledge. An annual mammogram and ultrasound are the most recommended diagnosis that can help detect breast cancer at its very early stages aiding better treatment and cure. Your physician may also recommend an MRI or breast biopsy depending on the symptoms of your case. If your doctor suspects breast cancer they may order both a mammogram and ultrasound and these are diagnostic procedures which give you a clear picture of your symptoms.
(Dr R V Thenmozhi is a Consultant obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Fortis Malar Hospital and Medall Precision Diagnostics, Chennai. Views expressed are the author's own.)