Breast cancer affects millions of women across the globe every year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, affecting 2.1 million women each year. As daunting as that may seem, the WHO also notes that early diagnosis can greatly reduce a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer.
Women can be proactive in the fight against breast cancer by learning to identify early warning signs of the disease. The nonprofit breast cancer advocacy organization Susan G. Komen® notes that the warning signs for breast cancer are not the same for all women, but the most common signs include a change in the look or feel of the breast or a change in the look or feel of the nipple. A discharge from the nipple is another common warning sign of breast cancer.
Physical changes in the breast can vary, but Susan G. Komen® advises women who notice these changes to bring them to the attention of their physicians immediately:
• Lump, hard knot or thickening inside of the breast or underarm area
• Change in the size or shape of the breast
• Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
• Dimpling or puckering of the skin
Women with breast cancer also may notice physical changes in their nipples, including:
• Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
• Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
It’s important that women recognize that physical changes in their breasts are not necessarily indicative of breast cancer. In fact, the American Breast Cancer Foundation notes that not all lumps in the breast cause cancer and that many such lumps are benign. Fibroadenomas and intraductal papillomas are examples of benign lumps, though it’s important to note that even benign conditions such as these may put women at greater risk of developing breast cancer.
Susan G. Komen® notes that breast tissue naturally has a lumpy texture. If lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and it feels like your other breast, then it’s likely that this is just the normal texture of your breasts. However, women concerned by a lump or lumpy texture are urged to discuss those concerns with their physicians immediately.
Discharge from the nipple is another potential sign of breast cancer, but Susan G. Komen® notes that such discharge is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharges that occur without squeezing the nipple, occur in only one breast or are bloody or clear are potentially indicative of more serious conditions, including breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a formidable foe. But women who arm themselves with knowledge of the disease, including its early warning signs, are in better position to overcome it.