We should probably begin by saying that a breast cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world. Early detection of the symptoms of breast cancer can help to ensure early treatment and increase the survival chances of the patient.
Simply put, cancer is a medical condition in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and or spread to other parts of the body. In order words, this condition is characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue.
Typically, cancer can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body, but go beyond its usual boundaries to invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs. When this happens, the cancer is said to be metastatic.
There are so many types of cancer, which include, breast cancer, lung, blood, colon cancers, etc. In summary, cancer can begin in any part of the body. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in six deaths, according to data collected in 2018. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are the most common among women.
Breast cancer is a type of cancer in which the cancer cells begin to grow and develop in the breast. Breast cancer can develop in one or in both breasts.
Fun fact: Even though breast cancer occurs mostly in women, men can get breast cancer too.
One of the symptoms of breast cancer is the presence of lumps in the breast. Hover, it is important to note that not all lumps in the breast are malignant (cancerous). Some breast lumps are benign, in other words, not cancerous. Although benign or non-cancer breast tumours are abnormal growths, they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life-threatening.
Note though, that some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or changes on the breast needs to be checked by a health care professional to find out if it is benign or malignant (cancer) and if it might pose risks of breast cancer in the future.
To better understand breast cancer and identify the symptoms of breast cancer, let us take a brief look at the anatomy of the breast.
Anatomy Of The Breast
- LOBULES: These are the breast milk-producing glands.
- DUCTS: These are small canals that come out from the lobules and carry the milk to the nipple.
- NIPPLE: This is the opening in the skin of the breast where the ducts come together to form larger ducts through which milk leaves the breast. The nipple is surrounded by a slightly darker area of thicker skin, called the nipple.
- STROMA (fat and connective tissue): The fat and connective tissue surround the ducts and lobules, helping to keep them in place.
- BLOOD VESSELS and LYMPH VESSELS: These vital vessels are also found in each breast.
Types Of Breast Cancer
The types of breast cancer depend on the location or part of the breast from where cancer started. Based on the anatomy above, the types of breast cancer are:
- The Lobules: When cancers start in the lobules, they are called lobular cancers. The Ducts: This is the most common place for breast cancer to start. Cancers that start here are called ductal cancers.
- The Nipple: The type of cancer that can start in the nipple is called Paget disease of the breast. This type of cancer is not a common type of breast cancer.
- The Stroma: The type of cancer that can start in the stroma is called phyllodes tumour. This is also a less common type of cancer.
- Blood Vessels & Lymph Vessels: The type of cancer that can start in these vessels is called angiosarcoma. It is a less common type of breast cancer.
Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
The symptoms of breast cancer can be tricky. Different people get different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people may get symptoms and others will get none. Note, however, that there are no symptoms of breast cancer in the early stage of the disease.
Even though breast change is considered one of the symptoms of breast cancer, sometimes, it is only a normal occurrence. Most women tend to be confused about what a ‘normal breast’ should be. No breast is typical. ‘Normal breasts to you may not be normal to someone else. Most women complain of their breasts feeling lumpy or uneven. Various factors can affect the look and feel of the breasts. Some of the factors are menstrual period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as a result of ageing.
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On the other hand, changes to the breast that may be symptoms of breast cancer are:
- A lump in the breast. This is the most common of all the symptoms of breast cancer. As discussed earlier, this symptom alone is not enough to conclude, as some lumps are non-cancerous. However, the presence of lumps in the breast along with other symptoms of breast cancer may be warning signs. A lump in the breast can usually be seen on a mammogram long before you can see or feel it.
- Changes in the shape of the nipple. For example, if it pulls inward or newly becomes inverted, is dimpled, burns, itches and develops sores.
- Breast pain that does not go away even after your next period. This is because some women suffer pain in their breasts during their period, However, if the pain remains even past the next period, it could be one of the symptoms of breast cancer. Although lumps in the breast do not usually hurt, some may cause a prickly feeling.
- A flat or indented area on the breast. This could happen because of a tumour that you can’t see or feel.
- Nipple discharge from one breast that is clear, red, brown or yellow. Note that nipple discharge can be a sign of an infection and not breast cancer. As such, this symptom should not be considered in isolation.
- Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast.
- Breast changes such as a difference in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast.
- A lump or swelling around the collarbone or under the arm
The symptoms above are the earlier symptoms of breast cancer. In more advanced stages, the following are symptoms of breast cancer:
- Enlargement of one breast
- An existing lump that gets bigger
- An “orange peel” texture to the skin
- Visible veins on the breast
- Retraction, or inward turning of the nipple
- Enlarged lymph node in the armpit. This could mean that breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes in that particular area. Sometimes, swelling may start before you feel a lump, so let your doctor know if you notice.
- Dimpling of the breast surface
- Poor appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer.
Without treatment, breast cancer can become metastatic, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body, including other organs. This is called metastatic, advanced, or secondary breast cancer. Depending on which part it is, you may have:
- Bone pain
- Changes in brain function
- Trouble with breathing
- Swelling of the belly
- Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Double vision
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Weakness of the muscles
Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In Men
As earlier stated, although breast cancer is most prevalent in women, men can get breast cancer too. However, only about 1% of men get breast cancer. Sometimes, the symptoms of breast cancer in men can go unnoticed until cancer had become advanced. The symptoms of breast cancer to watch out for in men are:
- A lump or thick spot in the breast or armpit
- Changes in the skin of the breast or nipple, such as redness, puckering, scales, or discharge.
Symptoms Of Breast Cancer Reoccurrence
Even after undergoing treatment for breast cancer, you are not out of the woods, at least, not yet. Breast cancer can reoccur, even after being treated. The chances of this happening are higher in the first two years of treatment. The chances reduce considerably after that. The symptoms of breast cancer reoccurrence to watch out for include:
- A new lump in your breast
- Changes in your breast, nipple, or skin
- Lumps on the skin of your chest
- Thickening on or near the scar from surgery to remove a breast (mastectomy)
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Breast cancer is responsible for the deaths of millions of women worldwide, every year. The symptoms of breast cancer varied from one person to another and may be absent in the early stages of the disease. Early detection of breast cancer increases the chances of survival and as such, it is important to carry out regular breast examinations.