Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in developed countries today. In Singapore, more than 1400 women are being diagnosed with breast cancer every year and the incidence is rising.
The good news is that even though breast cancer is very common, it is very treatable and many women continue to live normal fulfilling lives after treatment. The key strategy is early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
- Breast lump
The most common finding is a breast lump that is felt by the woman herself, or felt by the doctor during a routine examination.
Of course, most breast lumps will not be cancerous, but additional tests such as mammography, ultrasound or a biopsy may be necessary to confirm what type of breast lump it is.
Cancerous breast lumps are usually not painful, so the absence of pain does not mean the lump can be ignored.
- Nipple discharge
Occasionally women may notice they have whitish or milky nipple discharge from the breasts. This can be considered normal if the amount of discharge is very small, or it may be due to hormonal changes. Usually this occurs in both breasts.
If the discharge is seen to be bloody, clear or transparent, or coming from a single duct opening from the nipple (as opposed to multiple duct openings), then the cause may be an underlying tumour and other tests will need to be done.
- Nipple rash
An uncommon form of breast cancer occurs as a rash that involves the nipple and sometimes the areola. It is a dry scaly rash that is not itchy and not painful. This is called Paget's disease and usually occurs in women >50 years old. It may or may not be associated with other symptoms such as a lump.
An even rarer form of breast cancer is inflammatory breast cancer or IBC. This presents as an insidious onset of redness, swelling and sometimes pain in one breast and these symptoms persist despite antibiotics. It often occurs in younger women before menopause.
- No symptoms
Early breast cancer may not have any symptoms at all. Hence it is important to undergo routine screening to detect early cancer changes in the breasts, before the onset of significant symptoms.