For nearly 80 percent of women with breast cancer, the discovery of a mass or
lump in the breast is the first sign that something is amiss. Fortunately, 8 out of
every 10 lumps discovered and biopsied turn out to be noncancerous, but if you
do find a suspicious lump, its still best to call your doctor right away.
Most women discover breast lumps themselves, either by accident or while
performing a monthly self-examination. Because early detection is crucial for a
cure, you need to learn the right way to examine your breasts each month. Once you know the feel of a »normal« breast, youll quickly
recognize any little change.
If you do find a lump, your breast may be tender, or it may feel normal. There
could be some discomfort or a »pulling sensation.« Cysts, which are benign, tend
to move freely within the breast, so when a lump appears to be immobile, or the
skin is dimpled or puckered, doctors tend to suspect that the growth is malignant.
However, this is not a certainty.
A discharge from the nipple is another common sign of a potential problem. The
discharge may be clear, bloody, or colored. It is important to understand that a
discharge can be perfectly normal in women who are not breastfeeding. In this
case, a small amount of discharge usually comes out of several openings in both
A spontaneous discharge that occurs without squeezing the breast is a far greater
cause for concern. A discharge coming from the same general location in one
breast may well indicate the presence of an underlying mass. Although a bloody
discharge occasionally may occur during pregnancy, it can also be a significant
warning sign of cancer. The older the woman, the greater the possibility that the
discharge is caused by cancer. The odds are even higher if she also has a lump.
Other signs of cancer include a change in the shape or size of the breast or
swelling of the skin that covers it. The breast tissue may feel thicker, even though
there is no lump. There may be pain or redness of the skin. The nipple may be
sore or retract inside the breast. You should have a skin-doctor examine any sores on
the nipples or breast that do not clear up after two weeks of treatment with a
prescribed cream or lotion. Its also important to tell a doctor about scaly skin on
the nipple, skin dimpling, and any change in the veins in the breast. In most cases,
the doctor will need to take a sample for microscopic examination (a biopsy) to
check for cancer.
As breast cancer progresses, signs and symptoms become unmistakable,
including skin ulcers and extensive swelling and redness of the breast and swelling
of the arm. The nipple may retract into the breast, and the breast may retract into