Breast cancer is a cancer that originates in the area of the breast, where cells replicate too quickly, causing a tumor. Breast cancer is most common in women, but I can also occur in men. Breast cancer is caused by an abnormality that is genetic, but only a very low percentage of such cancers are inherited from the mother or father. It is crucial that breast cancer is caught in its early stages for the best possible prognosis, which is why women over 40 are encouraged to have an annual mammogram. Let’s learn about some of the early warning signs related to breast cancer.
1. Skin Changes with the Breast
Many people may experience subtle or very noticeable changes with the actual skin and appearance of the breast, when they are suffering from many different forms of breast cancer, and it can typically be one of the earliest signs of this type of cancer. The skin may begin to feel itchy, or the patient may experience a tingling sensation across the skin of the breast, along with a redness in color. With inflammatory breast cancer, swelling and a dimpled look to the skin may also occur, due to the blockage of the lymph nodes that may be caused by a tumor or a growth.
2. Lump in the Breast
Of course, the symptom that most people hear about the most is to find a lump or a growth in the breast. This lump may be very small and soft, or it can feel like a hard knot in the tissue of the breast. However, sometimes lumps cannot be felt until cancer has developed into its later stages, which is why it is so important for women over 40 to have regular mammograms. Sometimes small growths can show up in a mammogram, when they are not large enough to be detected by a self-check for lumps in the breast.
In the early stages of this form of cancer, the breast may look completely normal, even though it has cancerous cells, which is why early detection of breast cancer is so very important for the success of its treatment. As cancer progresses, the breast may begin to swell. The arm on the same side of the body may also be affected by swelling, along with under the arm and the area of the armpit. When the lymph nodes that are located under the arm are cancerous, they begin to swell up, blocking fluids and altering the way that they flow throughout the body, causing the swelling in many different areas.
4. Discharge from the Nipple
During any of the stages of breast cancer, any form of discharge from the nipple can definitely be a warning sign. Nipple discharge is any type of fluid that comes from the nipple, and it can include several different forms. The discharge may be yellow and seem to resemble pus, and it can be very liquid, or it can be thicker in form. The discharge may also take on the color of blood, and it can typically be clear with pockets of blood seeming to “float” in what appears to be a type of mucus. This discharge may or may not be accompanied with pain from the area of secretion.
When a person is suffering from any of the stages of breast cancer, experiencing pain in the breast can generally be a warning sign that should suggest that the patient makes an appointment with a medical professional as soon as possible. As the tumor inside of the breast grows, the pain typically increases, as more and more pressure is placed upon different areas within the chest. When the tumor reaches the skin, it can also cause very painful ulcers and skin abrasions. If the cancer spreads into the ribs, it can cause extreme pain.
The discomfort and the anxiety associated with having cancer can typically cause varying levels of insomnia. Many patients report that they have severe problems with actually falling asleep, as that they are sometimes depressed and feeling emotions riddled with anxiety. They may also find it difficult to stay asleep, as they are often awakened with pain, whether it be dull and aching or shooting, stabbing pains. Insomnia is one of the most neglected symptoms of breast cancer, and available treatments are not always successful. Due to the medications that a patient may already be taking, it is sometimes difficult to find a solution that will not interfere with other treatment.
Fatigue or a general lethargic feeling is one of the most common symptoms of breast cancer, affecting a very large majority of patients, whether they are currently experiencing treatment or they are in the early stages of cancer and it has just been discovered. Chemotherapy is known to cause fatigue, but even when a person may not be receiving this treatment, the changes in their body overall may cause a tired feeling that doesn’t seem to go away with sleep and rest. When an individual is experiencing this, along with another symptom or two associated with breast cancer, they should definitely make an appointment with their doctor to run tests.
8. Stomach Problems
Any form of cancer can cause problems with diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and an upset stomach. The anxiety that is also caused as a result of cancer can also trigger multiple problems related to the digestive system. Patients may begin to avoid certain types of food, trying to stave off the digestive problems, so their bodies may not take in as much fiber and calcium as they need, setting off another string of problems that can cause pain and discomfort in the stomach area. Medications can help alleviate some of these symptoms, but typically only temporarily.
9. Shortness of Breath
Experiencing a generalized shortness of breath can also be a symptom related to breast cancer. This can occur due to the size and the positioning of the growth or tumor inside of the breast or along the wall of the chest. If cancer has spread to the lungs, this can most definitely cause a shortness of breath that can often be accompanied by wheezing or a dry, “hacking” cough. Of course, these symptoms are not always an indicator of breast cancer, but when coupled with one or more of the other early warning signs, they should be taken seriously.
10. Difficulty Walking and Sitting
Once the breast cancer begins to spread, a variety of other symptoms may begin to become more and more noticeable. One commonly affected area is the bones, where cancer can easily spread, creating all manner of pain and discomfort. Patients may typically experience severe pain and loss of the range of motion in the hips, pelvis, spine, arms and legs. This can often make walking or sitting difficult and very painful, often creating the need to use a cane or a walker. When cancer spreads to the brain, it can increase the effect of these symptoms with additional problems like dizziness, weakness and headaches.