We all know that unusual lumps are a red flag when it comes to breast cancer, but did you know that there are other signs of breast cancer, such as skin and nipple changes? According to research presented at a 2016 National Cancer Institute conference, knowing what to look for can go a long way toward early diagnosis, as one in six women with breast cancer will see their doctor.
In this video, we highlight the main signs and symptoms of breast cancer that are not lumps.
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Breast changes should be considered
Any sudden change in the breast can indicate something is up, says the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This includes new developments in its size and shape. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that nipples or nipples that suddenly become painful and begin to turn inward should be examined.
Many women are unaware that the skin on their breasts provides important health information. Contact your health care provider if the skin is red, scaly, thick, bumpy, raised, or raised, says the NCI. Really, skin irritations and dimpling of the breast skin should be taken seriously — see your doctor right away, the CDC advises.
The same is true for secretions from the nipple (other than breast milk), says the NCI. If you experience swelling, warmth, or tenderness, these may be signs of breast cancer, especially an aggressive form called inflammatory breast cancer, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone should also be checked, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), because breast cancer can spread to these areas before a lump can be felt.
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What do these breast changes mean?
Of course, these symptoms are not symptoms of breast cancer. In fact, they may be related to where you are in your menstrual cycle, says the NCI. Your doctor may schedule another appointment at a different point in your cycle because your breasts may become lighter and softer before or during your period.
Knowing what your breasts normally look and feel like is an important part of breast health, says the ACS. If you notice anything unusual—whether it’s related to breast size, the look, texture, or feel of your nipples—talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Because many breast cancers can’t be seen or felt, screening mammograms are the best way to catch them early, the CDC says. Breast cancer is easier to treat if detected early, so you should talk to your doctor about when and how often you should have a mammogram.