In between annual visits to the OB/GYN – or in some cases every three years – we women tend to do breast self-exams when we remember, and we tend to keep it simple. We lift, push, and check for lumps to make sure nothing is amiss.
If something feels too off, it freaks us out, and rightfully so. Breast cancer is nothing to fool around with, and the sooner it’s caught, the better chance we have of receiving some level of treatment.
But what about those signs and symptoms that have nothing to do with a lump?
Although mammograms help to capture abnormalities, breast cancer can affect any woman at any age.
And every woman’s symptoms will not present the same, so it’s important to pay attention to any warning signs you notice on your own.
Listed here are some things to watch out for when it comes to breast health, whether you have a noticeable lump or not. As always, confirm your suspicions by following up with your doctor.
Have you noticed a breast discharge that is clear or tinged with blood? If you have a nipple discharge that only affects one breast and occurs without you applying pressure or squeezing it, it’s possible that cancer is present.
A person may observe discharge from the nipple, which can be thin or thick and can range in color from clear to milky to yellow, green, or red.
It is normal for people who are breastfeeding to have a milky discharge from the nipples, but it is advisable to see a doctor about any other nipple discharge.
Although most nipple discharge is noncancerous, it can signify breast cancer in some people.
Other possible reasons for nipple discharge include:
- breast infections
- a side effect of birth control pills
- a side effect of taking certain medications
- variations in body physiology
- certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disease
It may or may not be accompanied by a rash. However, discoloration may also be from an infection. Visit a medical professional to be sure.
Small dimples in the skin can be a sign of breast cancer. Tumors can cause the tissue to pucker, but women will not necessarily have more than one dimple.
Skin dimpling can sometimes be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer.
Cancer cells can cause a buildup of lymph fluid in the breast that leads to swelling as well as dimpling or pitted skin. It is essential that anyone who notices skin dimpling speaks with a doctor.
Doctors call this change in the skin’s appearance “peau d’orange” because the dimpled skin resembles the surface of an orange.
The breast may not be the only part of the body that’s swollen. Abnormal swelling near the armpit or collarbone could be a sign of breast cancer.
Some breast tissue extends into those areas, but it may also indicate that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Breast cancer can cause the entire breast or an area of the breast to swell. There may not be a distinct lump after this swelling, but the breast may be different in size than the other breast.
Although it is possible for people to have breasts that are slightly different in size at all times, this swelling would cause a change from their usual breast size.
The skin may also feel tight due to the swelling.
Changes To The Skin’s Texture
Breast cancer can cause changes and inflammation in skin cells that can lead to texture changes. Examples of these texture changes include:
- scaly skin around the nipple and areola, as though the skin is sunburned or extremely dry
- skin thickening in any part of the breast
These changes may also cause itching, which people often associate with breast cancer, although it is not common.
These skin changes may be symptomatic of a rare breast cancer type called Paget’s disease.
Texture changes can also occur as a result of benign skin conditions, including dermatitis and eczema.
Lymph Node Changes
Lymph nodes are small, rounded collections of immune system tissue that filter fluid and capture potentially harmful cells. These include bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.
If a cancer cell leaves the breast, the first place it travels to is the underarm lymph node region on the same side as the affected breast. This can lead to swelling in this area.
In addition to swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, a person may notice them around the collarbone. They usually feel like small, firm, swollen lumps and may be tender to the touch.
However, lymph tissue may also change due to breast infections or other completely unrelated illnesses.
A person should talk to a doctor about these changes so that they can identify a potential cause.
A sudden change in the shape of your nipples, like them becoming inverted, should set off an alarm.
Growths in the breast can affect the surrounding tissue, causing the nipples to become misshapen or to turn inwards.
Breast cancer can cause changes in skin cells also, which lead to feelings of pain, tenderness, and discomfort in the breast.
Although breast cancer is oftean painless, it is important not to ignore any signs or symptoms that could be due to breast cancer.
Some people may describe the pain as a burning sensation.
Cracked or Redness
If you’re experiencing irritation like itchiness, flakiness, scaly skin, or cracked areas on the nipple, it might be connected to breast cancer.
In many cases, this is due to hormonal changes or something in your environment, but get checked if you have concerns.
Breast cancer can cause changes to the skin that may make it appear discolored or even bruised. The skin may be red or purple or have a bluish tint.
If a person has not experienced recent trauma to the breast to explain these changes, they should see their doctor. It is also vital to seek medical advice if breast discoloration does not disappear, even if trauma was the cause.
Does your breast feel warm to the touch? While it may be something minor, tumors can cause the temperature to rise in the tissues.
Routine breast cancer screenings typically don’t begin until a woman reaches age 40, so it is important to practice self-exams at any age.
Report any odd appearances or symptoms to your doctor to find out if you have a benign breast condition, infection, or cancer.
Do you know someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer with symptoms other than a lump? What signs did they have? Do you conduct self-checks?
When To See a Doctor
People should not panic or be fearful when they notice breast changes. Aging, changes in hormone levels, and other factors can lead to breast changes throughout a person’s lifetime.
However, people should be proactive about their health and visit a doctor to determine the cause of any breast symptoms.
Each of the eight changes listed above can warrant a trip to the doctor, especially if these changes do not seem to relate to one of the following:
- the menstrual cycle
- previous illness, such as a breast infection
A doctor can evaluate the symptoms, examine the affected breast or breasts, and recommend further studies if necessary.
They may suggest a mammogram, ultrasound, other imaging tests, or bloodwork to rule out infection or other potential causes.