Tumors that originate in the breast tissue can indicate the development of breast cancer, although several types of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). The disease is most common in women but can also occur in men. Catching any cancer, including breast cancer, as early as possible gives medical professionals and patients the best chance to slow or eradicate the disease. Recognizing the symptoms of breast cancer can help with prompt diagnosis.
Lump in the Breast
The symptom of breast cancer people most often hear about is the discovery of a lump in the breast. This lump may be small and soft or feel like a hard knot in the tissue. While lumps in the breast are common and not always a sign of tumor growth, if they persist or grow, it is best to speak to a medical professional. Sometimes, lumps cannot be felt until cancer has developed into its later stages. Sometimes small growths not felt in palpitation can show up in a mammogram. A painless, hard mass with irregular edges is more likely to be cancer.
Some people with breast cancer experience visible changes in the breast. These are often early signs of breast cancer. The skin may begin to itch or tingle, and the individual may notice redness. Inflammatory breast cancer can cause swelling and a dimpled look to the skin similar to an orange peel texture.
In the early stages of breast cancer, the breast may look completely normal. As cancer progresses, swelling can indicate an issue or remain unnoticed. The arm on the same side of the body and the underarm area might also swell. When the lymph nodes under the arm are cancerous, they become swollen, blocking and altering the flow of fluids through the body, resulting in swelling.
Discharge from the Nipple
Nipple discharge is any fluid that comes from the nipple. It may be yellow or white, and quite liquid or thicker in consistency. The secretions may also take on the color of blood or appear like blood floating in mucus. In some cases, pain accompanies the leakage. Discharge from both nipples is more likely caused by a condition outside the breast such as hormonal imbalances. On the other hand, discharge in one nipple suggests a disease of the breast, such as infection or cancer.
Experiencing pain in the breast for an extended time not linked to the menstrual cycle is a sign to see a doctor. As tumors inside the breast continue to grow, they can place pressure on the breast tissue and chest. Ulcers and skin abrasions can develop when the tumor reaches the surface. Cancer spreading into the ribs can also cause severe pain.
People with cancer can develop insomnia for many reasons, often related to the mental stressors of dealing with a health condition. Cancer itself can affect the sleep-wake cycle and interfere with healthy, restful sleep. Depression and anxiety can interrupt sleep patterns or make it difficult to fall asleep. However, pain in the region of the tumor can also keep people from sleeping, as can some anti-cancer treatments.
Fatigue or general lethargy is one of the most common symptoms of breast cancer at all stages. Chemotherapy can cause fatigue, but even prior to treatment, the changes occurring and the body’s constant efforts to fight the disease can lead to persistent tiredness that does not ebb with sleep. Problems sleeping that do not resolve and interfere with wellbeing should always be discussed with a physician.
Any form of cancer can cause problems with diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and an upset stomach, firstly, because cancer interferes with appetite and food absorption, causing malnutrition. Chemotherapy and other anti-cancer medication can also reduce appetite. The stress cancer provokes in many individuals can also trigger difficulties related to the digestive system. Some patients develop food intolerances and may begin to avoid certain foods, trying to stave off the side effects.
Shortness of Breath
Breast cancer can lead to shortness of breath. This can occur due to the size and positioning of the tumor inside the breast or along the chest wall. If cancer has spread to the lungs, as can happen in the late stages of breast cancer, shortness of breath might be accompanied by a wheezing or a dry, hacking cough. Breathing difficulty usually suggests lung or heart disease, but when coupled with one or more of the other early warning signs, it may also indicate advanced breast cancer.
Difficulty Walking and Sitting
Once cancer begins to spread, a variety of other symptoms may become more and more noticeable. Many people feel pain and discomfort in the bones, where cancer can easily spread. Patients may experience severe pain and loss of the range of motion in the hips, pelvis, spine, arms, and legs. This can make walking or sitting difficult, limiting mobility. When cancer spreads to the brain, symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, and headaches can also manifest.