The body is always undergoing significant changes, especially in women. However, not all these changes are normal. Some of them could be signs of cancer. Hence, it is crucial to pay attention to your body to identify anything out of the ordinary.

Breast cancer awareness, over the past years has improved and most women (and some men) can now identify the key symptoms of the disease.
However, not all signs that can be seen or felt would be present in breast cancer. Hence, it is prerequisite to have screening tests such as mammograms (imaging of the breast).

Below are some key signs of breast cancer that should not be ignored:

  • Nipple discharge:

This is not a concern when you are pregnant or you recently had a child. However, what if babies were not present in this case? Then this could be a symptom of early breast cancer.

A recent study involving two women who visited the hospital both complaining of a whitish discharge from their nipples. Tests done confirmed the presence of cancerous cells. Mammograms also identified widespread small spots in the breast tissue.

It was later confirmed to be an intraductal carcinoma after histological studies of the breast tissue obtained from the mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast tissue).

However, other studies involving hundreds of women suggest nipple discharge is not strongly linked with it. It could be due to other factors such as increased levels of prolactin hormone causing galactorrhea (milky discharge).
It is recommended to see the doctor, if you cannot identify the cause of the nipple discharge.

  • Bloody nipple discharge:

This raises a great fear in most women, especially if they notice blood stains in their brassier or presence of blood on the nipple. Though scary at sight, it is normally harmless. Some reasons for such nipple discharge are: growths in the breast duct (intraductal papilloma), widened and thickened breast ducts (duct ectasia), and physical trauma to the breast through tight clothes rubbing against it.

It is recommended to see the doctor, if you cannot identify the cause of the nipple discharge.

  • Swollen lymph nodes:

These tissues in the body assist your body’s immunity by filtering out and destroying pathogens (bacteria, viruses and other microbes) that can cause illness.These can be felt even when there is a common cold, normally around the neck. In breast cancer, they appear near the armpit or the clavicle (collarbone).

Visit your doctor for a medical screening test when you notice a swollen lymph node near the armpit or collarbone.

  • Nipple irritation:

Normally it resolves on its own or is treated with anti-irritant creams. However, an exception is Paget’s disease. A rare form of breast cancer which involves the nipple and extends to the surrounding tissue (areola). Other signs present in this disease are: redness of the nipple, flaky or thickened skin, flattened nipple and yellowish or bloody discharge. It is recommended to visit your doctor if the itching is not relieved with simple medications.

  • Breast swelling and tenderness:

This symptom can present due to a variety of causes. A common cause is infection or less often, inflammatory breast cancer. This form of cancer does not usually form a lump. However, the breast undergoes changes such as: enlargement, discoloration (red or purple), increased warmth, dimpled or an orange peel appearance and tenderness. Cancer cells block the lymph ducts of the breast leading to the accumulation of fluid causing these classical symptoms.

  • Lumps in the breast or armpit:

Normally identified in the early stages. In the early stage, it can move freely beneath the skin when it is pushed with the fingers. In advanced stages, it could be painful or adhere to the chest wall or skin. It can also develop into festering sores on the skin.

  • Change in size, shape or contour of the breast:

This could be as a result of other causes, however with breast cancer, there is a presence of a scattered lumpy changes in the breast, normally in the upper outer region distorting its contour and shape.