The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of successful treatment. So it’s important to check your breasts regularly and see your doctor if you notice a change.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of the cells lining the breast lobules or ducts. These cells grow uncontrollably and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. Both men and women can develop breast cancer, although it is uncommon in men.
Types of Breast Cancer
1) Non-Invasive Breast Cancer
Cancer that is confined to the ducts (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ or DCIS) or lobules (Lobular Carcinoma In Situ or LCIS). DCIS is considered a precancerous condition while LCIS is a risk factor for invasive cancer.
2) Invasive Cancer
Cancer that has spread beyond the ducts or lobes to the surrounding breast tissue. Generally, most treatable in the early stage when the tumour is relatively small and has not spread to the lymph nodes.
3) Metastatic Breast Cancer
Cancer that has spread outside the breast to other parts of the body. If cancer cells are detected in the lymph nodes under the arm, it may mean that it has spread to other lymph nodes and organs such as the bones, liver or lungs.
Symptoms of breast cancer
In the early stages of breast cancer, there is usually no pain and there may be no symptoms at all. As cancer grows, the following symptoms could appear:
Consult a doctor if you notice any of the above changes
There are other breast conditions that might mimic the symptoms of breast cancer and so require further tests to diagnose. These include:
- Cysts: Fluid-filled sacs more common in women aged 35 – 50
- Fibroadenomas: Benign tumours made of glandular and fibrous tissue, common in younger women
- Hyperplasia: A proliferation of cells in the lobes or ducts
- Calcifications: Bits of calcium in the breast
- Papillomas: Small growths that arise from the lining of the breast ducts and are often not more than 0.5-1.0cm in size
- Phyllodes tumours: Tumours which tend to grow rapidly to a large size, sometimes up to 8-10cm in size
- Infections of the breast: Lumps due to infection are usually very painful and there will be skin changes such as redness and swelling over the lump
Of these, hyperplasia is believed to increase the risk for breast cancer while clusters of tiny calcifications (microcalcifications) can be indications of pre-cancer or cancer.
Breast Self Examination
Breast Self Examination (BSE) should be done once each month by women 20 years and older.
The best time to do BSE is 7-10 days after the start of menses when the breasts are least tender. If you no longer menstruate, do BSE on a fixed date every month, for example, the first day of each month.
Download your Breast Self-exams (BSE) guide below:
If you notice a change in your breasts… do not panic! Make sure you get checked out by your doctor as soon as possible.
Take charge of your breast health and start doing your breast self-examination (BSE). Making it part of your monthly routine as early detection saves lives.
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