October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and even though this month is dedicated to spreading awareness of this disease, we should always check our breasts to see if we have any signs of breast cancer throughout the year.
Not sure what are the signs are? Here are 7 via Cancer.org:
A lump in your breast
A lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Such lumps are often hard and painless, though some may be painful. Not all lumps are cancer, though. There are a number of benign breast conditions (like cysts) that can also cause lumps. Still, it’s important to have your doctor check out any new lump or mass right away. If it does turn out to be cancer, the sooner it’s diagnosed the better.
Swelling in or around your breast, collarbone, or armpit
Breast swelling can be caused by inflammatory breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease.
Swelling or lumps around your collarbone or armpits can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes in those areas. The swelling may occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast, so if you have this symptom, be sure to see a doctor.
Skin thickening or redness
If the skin of your breast starts to feel like an orange peel or gets red, have it checked right away. Often, these are caused by mastitis, a breast infection common among women who are breast feeding. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. If your symptoms don’t improve after a week, though, get checked again, because these symptoms can also be caused by inflammatory breast cancer. This form of breast cancer can look a lot like a breast infection, and because it grows quickly it’s important to diagnose it as soon as possible.
Breast warmth and itching
Like skin thickening and redness, breast warmth and itching may be symptoms of mastitis – or inflammatory breast cancer. If antibiotics don’t help, see your doctor again.
Breast cancer can sometimes cause changes to how your nipple looks. If your nipple turns inward, or the skin on it thickens or gets red or scaly, get checked by a doctor right away. All of these can be symptoms of breast cancer.
A discharge (other than milk) from the nipple may be alarming, but in most cases it is caused by injury, infection, or a benign tumor (not cancer). Breast cancer is a possibility, though, especially if the fluid is bloody, so your doctor needs to check it out.
Although most breast cancers do not cause pain in the breast, some do. More often, women have breast pain or discomfort that is related to their menstrual cycle. This type of pain is most common in the week or so before their periods, and often goes away once menstruation begins. Some other benign breast conditions, such as mastitis, may cause a more sudden pain. In these cases the pain is not related to the menstrual cycle. If you have breast pain that is severe or persists and is not related to the menstrual cycle, you should be checked by your doctor. You could have cancer or a benign condition that needs to be treated.
Again, while benign breast conditions are much more common than breast cancer, it is important to let your health care team know about any changes in your breast so they can be checked out right away.
For more information head over to Cancer.org.
And also while you’re at it, thanks to the lovely ladies at Cosmopolitan, the publication put together 34 things your breasts tell you about your health. It was super helpful. Here are some (you can see the rest on their site):
It’s probably NBD. No one’s breasts are perfectly symmetrical — and different-shaped breasts are fine and normal, Dr. Minkin says.
Or, it could be a sign of breast cancer. When one breast changes shape significantly, it could signal an abnormality linked to breast cancer, says Dr. Minkin. Don’t freak — just see your doctor right away for a formal exam.
7. You might be allergic to something — like the underwire in your bra, which may be made of nickel, which is a common irritant. Or it could be soap residue or an itchy sweater. Many women have a breast cancer phobia and freak at the slightest sign of irritation. “Just remember that hydrocortisone cream doesn’t cure breast cancer,” says Dr. Minkin. Treat your rash with a topical hydrocortisone cream. If it goes away within a few days, you’re good to go. (Otherwise, you know what to do: See your doctor.)
8. It could mean you have inframammary intertrigo. It’s a fancy way of saying the crease between the bottom of your breast and the skin beneath it is rubbing and causing inflammation — a common occurrence in the summer. An antibiotic or steroid cream, OTC cortisone, or Neosporin can reduce inflammation while the right-size bra can keep your breasts off your chest to separate the skin in the first place.
13. It’s probably NBD. The breast is designed for milk production, and those bumps are just the ends of milk ducts. They sometimes puff out a bit, so it’s normal to have small, pimple-like bumps on your areolas.
14. You could have a benign cyst or cancerous tumor. Calmly call your health care provider to schedule a screening as soon as you can. She can tell you whether you’re feeling normal breast tissue or have cause for concern.
31. You may be more susceptible to skin cancer. Pale, translucent breasts are a predictor of fair skin, which makes you especially susceptible to sunburn. But as long as you don’t worship the sun and apply sunscreen liberally to exposed skin, you shouldn’t have any major problems.
21. It might mean you’re getting your period. It’s pretty common to experience changes in your breasts — from the texture to sensitivity — in the days leading up to your period. And it’s normal to wonder whether these changes signal something more serious (like a cancerous tumor)
To find out whether your symptoms are related to your cycle or are cause for concern, Dr. Minkin recommends taking a tried-and-true combination of vitamins on days when you’re uncomfortable: 200 milligrams of vitamin B6, 300 milligrams of vitamin E, and two 500-milligram capsules of evening primrose oil. Then wait one menstrual cycle. If the soreness and lumpiness doesn’t go away, see your doctor, who can confirm whether you’re feeling normal breast tissue or something off. (Most of the time, tumors don’t cause pain. So breast pain can actually be a good sign — even if it only occurs in one breast as opposed to both.)
22. It might mean you’re OD-ing on caffeine. Caffeine can sometimes aggravate breast soreness — so cutting back on coffee and sodas (in addition to taking the supplements listed above) can help bring your breasts back to baseline.
Again, if you’re ever unsure or have concerns make an appointment with your doctor immediately.