Breast Cancer Signs and Signals

By: Mabel Dugmore

Breast cancer has a nasty habit of remaining hidden. We do not get much of an alarm bell or a warning flag in advance of it emerging.

There are no outward symptoms related to early breast cancer. There are no warnings, and no pain. The only way to detect breast cancer in the preliminary stage is by finding an abnormality or a lump. Mostly this happens through breast self-examinations, or as a result of a yearly mammogram.

Most lumps that are found in the breast are not cancerous. However, it is essential to have a doctor examine the lump immediately.

For some women, breast cancer initially presents as a bump under the arm or above the collarbone that doesn't go away. As the disease progresses, other symptoms will appear such as nipple inversion or discharge, or changes to the skin and surface of the breast.

Although rarely a symptom of cancer, discharge from the breast is a common problem. There is greater concern, however, if the discharge is bloody, or occurs in only one breast. A doctor should assess any occurrence of breast discharge. It is also very common for nipples to become inverted; however if this is a sudden occurrence it should be discussed with your doctor.

Swelling or redness in the breast may be an indication of an infection present in the breast tissue. Any infections, regardless of the type or cause, should be treated promptly. See your doctor right away if you notice redness, swelling or severe pain in your breast, in your armpit, or under your shoulder.

Where breast cancer is present, changes may occur to the skin such as redness, puckering and changes to texture. There are some skin diseases that may cause a similar effect, however it's important to have a professional consultation to rule out any possibility of cancer.

Breast cancer can take months or even years to develop. Once diagnosed, it's crucial to begin treatment immediately, as it is much more difficult to treat cancer once it has begun to spread throughout the body in what is called metastastic spread.

The earliest signs of breast cancer can be found with a test called a mammogram. This electronic scan of the breast tissue should be performed once per year, particularly for women over 40. Should an abnormality be found on a mammogram, don't panic. Make an appointment with your health care provider immediately for further evaluation, and to give you peace of mind.

In addition to a mammogram, manual examination and ultrasolography may also be used to detect abnormalities. A complete physical examination of the breast includes a visual inspection and palpitation, including the armpits and areas around the collarbone. Your healthcare provider may palpate for a lump or feel for a thickening in the skin. A biopsy, where a piece of the lump or tissue is removed, is the only definite method to test the cells and provide a positive diagnosis.

It's imperative that women are aware of the symptoms of breast cancer:

* A lump under the arm, above the collarbone, or in the breast that remains for more than a week

* Discharge from a nipple

* Nipple inversion or similar changes in the nipple

* Changes to the skin surface of the breast

If you notice any of these symptoms yourself, don't take a chance with your health. See your doctor right away to evaluate the possibility of breast cancer.

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Mabel Dugmore is a columnist for several popular web sites, on health and wellness and hot products subjects.
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