Recognising the Signs of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer, a cancer that mainly effects women but can occur in men too, can be a life-altering condition that can require different intensities of treatment in order to provide the patient with a clean bill of health. Recognising the signs of breast cancer early is advantageous as some cancers can become quite aggressive and spread throughout the body in a matter of weeks, luckily if caught early, most cancers have an excellent recovery average and our efforts towards curing cancer are stronger than ever before.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when the cells within the breasts rapidly grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner which leads to a tumour within the breast tissue. There is no known cause of breast cancer, however, there are tests that can be done, in addition to taking information about your family and personal life that will give an indication of an individual patient’s risk of developing breast cancer. These factors include age, previous cancer history, lifestyle choices, family history and hormone balances within the body. In men, the risk factors differ slightly and include the presence of one or more extra X chromosomes, known as Klinefelter syndrome and the individual’s age, breast cancer is most often seen in men past the age of 60.

How Is Breast Cancer Treated?

The treatment of breast cancer is dependent on the individual circumstances, for instance, someone with aggressive breast cancer is more likely to be put forward for surgery and potentially a full mastectomy, than someone who is in the early stages and can be treated using radiotherapy or immunotherapy. As treatments are developed and specialist therapies become available, patients have a better chance of receiving an early diagnosis and be treated in the most effective way. For example, 2018 saw innovative proton beam therapy treatment delivered to a breast cancer patient, the first in the UK.

What Are the Signs of Breast Cancer?

The earlier you can recognise the signs and symptoms of breast cancer; the faster doctors can treat the condition and the greater chance of a full recovery the patient has. Women are recommended to check their breasts regularly in the mirror and familiarise themselves with personal features so they can instantly recognise once something has changed.

When checking for lumps and changes under the skin, it’s important to use the flat palm of your hand, rather than finger tips which can pinch the skin and cause confusion. In addition, make sure to check from the armpit to around and under the breast.

In addition to the most common indication of breast cancer, a lump in the breast tissue, here is a further list of signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for;

  • Changes in the size and shape of your breast. Has your breast dropped (for no discernible reason) or become firmer or looser?
  • Dimpling or thickening of the skin. Has the skin on your breast changed in appearance at all? Dimpling is when the skin puckers with an appearance that is not dissimilar from inverted goose bumps
  • Inverted nipples. Is the nipple sitting pertly on the surface of the skin or has it retracted into the areolar tissue. You can compare how your standard nipple appearance is when the outer air is frigid, and your body automatically reacts to understand how this might appear.
  • Swelling or discomfort in the armpit, Breast tissues forms a teardrop shape from the back of the armpit to the breast itself. Problems in the armpit shouldn’t be ignored and if recurring, patients should seek advice from their doctor as soon as possible.
  • Discharge from the nipple. Unless you are lactating, any sort of discharge from the nipple is indication that something is wrong, and you should book an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible
  • Pain or discomfort in the breast. If you have recurring pain in your breast that doesn’t have a cause, i.e. bruising, a fall, hormonal changes, this is an indication that you should seek further advice and tests

Although most lumps that occur in the breast are not aggressive cancerous tumours, it’s important that any changes to your body that are unexpected and without cause are raised with your GP to ensure tests can be carried out and confirmation received that you have a good bill of health. You can always reach out to a cancer charity or private cancer centre if you have any questions or would like to seek advice for any symptoms you are experiencing, and their team of supportive staff will be able to offer guidance or recommend you to a specialist.