When we think of breast cancer the symptom that always springs to mind is a lump. It’s what we feel for when we check our breasts, and what we often assume our GP is looking for when they examine us.
But while lumps are important messengers that something could be wrong, and triggers to see our GP, there are seven other breast cancer symptoms that we should all look out for.
1. A change in size and shape, in either breast.
2. A rash or redness on the skin on either or both your breast and around your nipple.
3. A discharge of fluid – which may be streaked with blood – from either nipple (without squeezing).
4. Any swelling near your collarbone, or in your armpit.
5. Changes to your skin texture, for instance, any puckers or dimpling.
6. Either nipple changing shape or position, or sinking into your breast (becoming inverted)
7. Feeling constant pain in either breast or armpit.
“Many women know to check for a lump, as it’s the most common breast cancer symptom, but it’s really important to look for other changes too,” says Jackie Harris, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, the breast care charity.
“We know that women who find a lump tend to go to their GP more quickly than those with non-lump symptoms, which suggests that less people recognize these as symptoms of breast cancer.”
How to check your breasts
- It’s important to check your breasts regularly – when you’re in the bath or the shower or getting dressed. And don’t just look, remember to feel too.
- As well as your breasts, you need to check your armpits and the area around them, right up to your collarbone.
- Checking regularly will mean that you’re more likely to spot any changes early on, as you’ll know what looks and feels normal, and what doesn’t.
“Remember it’s a change that you’re looking for – most changes won’t be breast cancer, but it’s important to get them checked out,” says Jackie Harris.
“Breast Cancer Care wants to make sure that everyone knows what’s normal for them, can spot any unusual changes and feels confident in visiting their GP if they have any concerns. We know that early detection can save lives, so it’s crucial to get symptoms checked out as soon as possible.”
A survey carried out for Breast Cancer Care in 2015 found that 17% (an estimated 6,000 every year) of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer waited for more than a month before making an appointment to see their GP.
And alarmingly, five % waited more than six months before going to see their GP, possibly delaying vital treatment.
So if you notice something unusual, see your GP straight away.
Breast Cancer Care is at www.breastcancercare.org.uk
Cancer Research UK is at www.cancerresearchuk.org