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What are the initial symptoms of breast cancer?

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 Current research carried out at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ Medical School found that while most women are aware of what finding a lump in their breast could mean, few were aware of the danger signs associated with a change in the breast or nipple, with regards to shape and size.


In the UK, breast cancer is currently the most common cancer with women having a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. As with many cancers, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher chance of survival. Current statistics show those diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer have a 90% five-year survival rate. This figure drops to around 15% for women diagnosed with the most advanced stage. A woman's breasts can change throughout her lifetime due to various factors such as hormonal fluctuations with their menstrual cycle or pregnancy. However, it's important to be aware of any changes that could be due to breast cancer and how to recognize the initial symptoms.


˜Breast Awareness' “ noticing changes in your breasts

Being ˜breast aware' means getting to know the normal look and feel of your breasts and the changes and fluctuations in size and appearance you can expect with each monthly menstrual cycle. A change in the size or sensitivity of your breasts is common for many women and it is also not uncommon for women to have one breast bigger than the other. Unexpected changes in the breast, particularly asymmetrical ones, should be your main concern. Dr Sarah Cant, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, highlights the importance of the ˜Touch, Look Check' or TLC approach with regards to being breast aware. Touch and look and if there are any unusual changes to your breasts visit your GP as soon as possible.”


The following changes could be indicative of breast cancer and would warrant a consultation with a trained professional.


  • A swelling, lump or tissue thickness in an area of the breast or armpit
  • A change in the size, shape, contour, texture or temperature of one or both breasts
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • A retraction, change in shape, dimpling, itching, burning or ulceration of your nipple
  • Clear, bloody or coloured discharge from the nipple
  • A rash on or around the nipple


Many of these changes can also be due to other medical conditions and experiencing one or more doesn't necessarily mean you have breast cancer. However, it is important to seek advice at the earliest point to either treat the underlying condition you may be suffering from, if not to just put your mind at rest.


Breast Lumps

For the majority of breast cancer diagnoses, a lump in the breast is the first, most obvious physical symptom. However, it's important to remember that around 90% of breast lumps found during self-examinations are benign, non-cancerous lumps. These lumps could be cysts (small, fluid-filled sacs), fibroadenomas (a non-threatening collection of fibrous, glandular tissue) or simply due to a change in the breast tissue caused by hormones. If you do find a lump you should still consult your GP who may then send you to a breast cancer specialist to rule out cancer as a cause of any suspicious lumps. Most cysts can be drained and solid lumps, if requested, can often be surgically removed. If your lump does turn out to be cancerous, there are many treatment options available with a higher chance of a cure the earlier you start treatment.


Breast Pain

Pain in your breasts is not commonly associated with breast cancer and most women will find their breasts are sore or tender in the days leading up to a period. Breast pain can also sometimes be caused by an ill-fitting bra, stress or even side-effects of birth control. However, there are many different types of breast cancer and some can present with pain in the breast in the early stages. If you do experience unusual, intense or uneven pain, you should seek professional advice at the earliest opportunity.


Seeking Advice

Some research suggests that delaying a GP visit by three months could lower your chance of surviving some cancers by as much as 7%. If you notice any of the above symptoms and are worried about your health, make an appointment with your GP or healthcare provider as soon as possible to get a professional opinion.
It's understandable that some people are really anxious about visiting a doctor, especially about something as sensitive as breast cancer, but no doctor will ever say you're wrong to have raised a concern says Dr. Michèle Badenoch DCH MRCGP, General Practitioner at Blossoms Healthcare.