Approximately one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Eighty-five percent of women affected by the breast cancer have no family history of the disease, which means that every woman can be at risk (1).
The rates of remission and survival for breast cancer directly correlate with early detection.
Monthly breast self-examinations are important to monitor breast health and track changes in your breast tissue (2).
This is especially true since the value of a mammography is highly questionable; there is strong evidence that a mammogram actually causes much more harm than good, contributing to the development of cancer rather than a safe procedure for early tumor detection.
During your monthly examinations, here are eleven symptoms you should keep an eye out for that may indicate a serious problem.
Should you discover any of these changes, consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
1. Sudden Growth in Breast Size
While not necessarily an indication of cancer, this symptom could be an indication of a health problem (3). Breasts will swell and recede corresponding to your regular monthly cycle so you may need to track the changes for several months to find out if these changes truly are abnormal.
If you are pregnant, your breasts can begin to grow very early on in preparation for feeding your baby. Overall weight gain affects breasts, too, as they are mostly fatty tissue. Starting hormonal birth control or hormone therapy can also cause changes in your breast tissue. If you can rule these out, you may want to book a doctor’s appointment.
2. Reduction in Breast Size
Breast reduction typically indicates weight loss. If you’re not losing weight elsewhere in your body but your breasts are getting smaller, getting a health check-up is recommended.
3. Different Sized Breasts
Women naturally have asymmetrical breasts, but what may be cause for concern is the sudden growth or reduction in the size or shape of one breast and not the other, especially if this change doesn’t return to normal through the course of a couple of monthly cycles.
4. Skin Irritation Under the Breasts
Sensitive, itchy, irritated skin under the breasts that cannot be attributed to an article of clothing, laundry detergent, seasonal changes, or personal care product can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
Early symptoms of this form of cancer can manifest itself in persistent itching and a rash or small irritation under the breast, with or without dimpling of the skin or observable changes in the nipple (4).
5. Lumps in the Breast
Cysts, infection, injury, blocked milk ducts, or sluggish lymph flow can cause small lumps in your breast tissue (6, 7, 8). Monitor the lump and if it gets larger or doesn’t go away after a couple of months, an examination by your healthcare provider may be necessary to rule out breast cancer.
6. Nipple Hair
An increase in the amount of hair around the nipples, face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs, or toes can be an indication of polycystic ovary syndrome (9). It can also indicate hormone imbalance caused by cancer or another health condition.
7. Dry/Itchy Nipples
Prolonged itching of the nipples accompanied by red, scaly skin can be a symptom of the rare Paget’s disease. This condition almost always occurs when there is cancer elsewhere in the breast (10).
8. White Discharge
White discharge from the nipple can occur as the result of normal hormonal changes and is of no concern if it expresses only when squeezed, although it’s best not to do so.
Unless you are pregnant or nursing a baby, however, if accompanied by other noticeable changes in the breast, it may be indicative of something else, especially if:
- There is a lump in your breast
- Only one breast is affected
- The discharge is spontaneous
- The discharge affects only a single duct (11)
9. Bloody Nipple Discharge
Discharge that is bloody or clear is cause for concern, especially if it is released by only one duct and happens spontaneously (12).
10. Lump in Breast Tissue
Lumps naturally occur in the breast for many reasons. They are often benign and will disappear on their own (13). Not all cancerous lumps are painful. If the lump is firm compared to surrounding tissue, it should definitely be examined. The presence or absence of pain doesn’t guarantee anything (14).
11. Abnormality of the Skin on the Breast
Tumor growth can stretch the skin on the breast, causing noticeable dimpling, whether or not you feel a lump. (12) Don’t wait to see a healthcare provider if there is dimpling, puckering, or red or purple patches on your breast.