Symptoms and Signs of Breast Cancer
In order to properly assess the symptoms and signs in relation to breast cancer, doctors take into account age of women, major risk factors like family history, previous screening tests if any, and other factors. Some major signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:
Unilateral palpable mass or thickening
The possibility of a palpable breast mass is related to older age, postmenopausal status associated with some features on physical examination including firm consistency of mass, solid mass with jagged edges, poor movement on skin or costal region and surrounding tissue, painless mass or lump, and the presence of axillary lymph nodes. All these factors help in determination of whether the mass is malignant or benign. It should be noted that malignant means something which can spread to other regions and benign means something that is confined in its location for the time being. Yes, it is for sure that a benign mass can develop into a malignant cancerous tumor if not detected or treated on time but it can and it is not for sure because in some percentage of breast cancer cases, the benign mass does not convert into malignancy causing no threat to the patient but that does not mean that the patient should leave it as is and not undergo any screening tests.
However, even in the absence of above factors, approximately 10% of masses can be malignant, as sometimes an area of thickening that does not reach mass may be considered as cancer. Coexistence of palpable axillary lymph nodes should be considered cancer until proven; otherwise, 90% of breast masses are usually benign. A mass having smooth and elastic consistency is associated with fibroadenoma in women aged 20 to 30 years of age and cysts in women aged 30 to 40 years of age. Mammogram is the best way to detect whether these masses are cancerous or not, especially if the patient has a family history of this cancer and other risk factors for developing breast cancer.
Nipple Secretions or Discharge
There is increased risk of malignancy in the event the secretion contains traces of blood and is associated with a mass. A nipple aspirate fluid cytology can be performed in cases of discharge from multiple ducts, though doctors perform mammography and ductography (galactography) in the event that the fluid is coming out from a single duct whereas presence of bilateral milky discharge due to endocrine gland problems can lead to a differential diagnosis of galactorrhea least associated with breast cancer.
Pain in breasts has been one of the most frequent reasons for undergoing consultation and evaluation of breasts. In the absence of other symptoms, a suspected mass is usually due to pre-menstrual tension and pain and other costochondral deformities, though breast pain is most commonly associated with fibrocystic changes in premenopausal women.
Breast Skin Symptoms
An abnormal break down of bone tissue known as Paget's disease can also affect the nipple and areola unilaterally. Also, chronic eczema clinically similar to chronic dermatitis is associated with underlying intraductal breast carcinoma.
Though nipple retraction is usually caused by aging but any unusual presentation of skin should be carefully evaluated by the patient through self breast examination and then by undergoing diagnostic screening tests at a clinical setting because inflammatory type of erythema (skin redness), induration (becoming hardened), pain, and increased temperature are the indicators of an inflammatory tumor of breast which can sometimes develop into a cancerous tumor if not taken care of in time.