What are the symptoms?
Early breast cancer usually doesn’t show symptoms, but as the tumor grows, it can change how the breast looks or feels. The common changes include:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the armpit area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast
- The nipple becoming inverted (turning inward into the breast)
- Abnormal discharge from the nipple
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple or aureola (the dark area surrounding the nipple)
- The skin of the breast taking on an orange peel look or feel
Screening for breast cancer:
If breast cancer is found early, there are more treatment options and a better chance of survival. Even if you feel healthy now, just being a woman and getting older puts you at risk for breast cancer. Getting checked regularly can put your mind at ease. Finding cancer early may save your life. Know how your breasts normally look and feel.
Discuss any changes you observe with your health practitioner. Breast self-examination (BSE) should be done once a month during ovulation (preferably at the same time of day). Many women have a pattern of lumpiness in their breasts, which is normal. However, if you feel or see any change in your breasts or underarms, ask your medical practitioner to do a clinical breast examination (CBE)
A CBE is a visual and manual examination of the entire breast – from the collarbone to the bra-line, and from the armpit to the breastbone. If a CBE by a medical practitioner is not part of your routine medical checkup, ask for it.
Women 40 or older, or who have other risk factors, should be referred for a mammogram every 2-3 years.
You have a higher risk for breast cancer if:
- You are older than 50 years
- You have a close family member with breast cancer
- You have a personal history of cancer and have received treatment for it
- Your breast tissue is very dense
- You have never given birth or your first confinement was after the age of 35
- You are using, or have recently used birth control pills (oral contraceptives) for many years
- You are postmenopausal and are using combination hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- You have two or more alcoholic drinks per day
Most women who have many risk factors never develop breast cancer. Although very rare, men can also develop breast cancer.
Women who breastfeed for at least 18 months can further reduce their (and their baby’s risk)
You can reduce your risk of breast cancer by adopting a balanced lifestyle and avoiding environmental carcinogens. Be physically active, don’t be overweight and limit your alcohol intake.