Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Feel Them to Save Them

Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women. A study conducted by the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) revealed that 80% of breast lumps are benign. The study also revealed that 80% of all cancerous breast lumps are found by women themselves and among these 98% of all cases result in complete cure if detected early.

Fibrocystic disease is a common disorder in females in the reproductive age group. Breasts are influenced by the hormonal changes that take place during menstrual cycle. The breast cells may degenerate leading to debris formation and fluid collection which may be felt as lumps. Usually both breasts are affected, although the extent of involvement can differ .This can lead to pain in breasts (mastalgia) at the time of menstruation.

Women are encouraged to self-examine their breast in order to aid early detection. If you choose to do breast self-examination, it is important to learn the proper technique. The self-examination of the breast is best done when there is the least amount of hormonal stimulation of the breast. This occurs 7 to 10 days after the start of the last menstrual cycle or three days after a period ends.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females. Reports from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) shows that 1 per 1000(or 124/ 1 lakh) women develop breast cancer in a year. If a lady lives until the age of 80, there is a 12 % chance that she may suffer from breast cancer.

In countries with a proper breast cancer screening program with a mammogram done for all after the age of 40, approximately 80 % of breast cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. This in turn leads to a cure rate of more than 80 % in these cases.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The symptoms of breast cancer differ in women. Early detection of breast cancer is extremely important in order to cure the condition effectively. One point to emphasise is that early stage breast cancer may not be painful. It is only after the tumour invades the muscle, skin or nerve that the pain may start. The symptoms to look out for are;

  • Feeling a lump in the breast, armpit or chest area
  • Pain in the breast or areas surrounding the breast
  • Change in size with one breast being larger/smaller than the other
  • Change in color of the nipple and skin texture of the breast
  • Bloody discharge from the nipple
  • Redness around the nipple
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Nipple rash

What are the risk factors associated with breast cancer?

The exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown, however risk factors of breast cancer have been identified. The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. The condition is most commonly seen in women over 40 years of age, although it can also be caused in younger women. Risk factors of breast cancer are;


5%-10% of breast cancers are considered to be caused in women with a family history of the condition. Hereditary breast cancer is caused if the woman has inherited the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene. The function of the BRCA gene is to act as a tumour suppressor and produce proteins that repair damaged DNA. Variations of these genes resulting from gene defects passed on directly from parents lead to abnormal cell growth leading to cancer. Women with a family history of breast cancer are more likely to develop the condition.

Lifestyle factors like obesity, excessive alcohol consumption:

Poor lifestyle habits put you at the risk of developing various health conditions including breast cancer. Smoking, unhealthy weight and excess alcohol intake increases the risk of the condition.

Age of menstruation:

Women who have had their menstruation before the age of 12 and those who have menopause after the age of 55 are at the increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Although the aforementioned risk factors help in identifying the condition, mammograms help examine the breast and help detect the condition at an early stage. Women over 40 years of age should have mammogram examinations annually and younger women should be aware of self-breast awareness techniques. In women with a high risk, MRI examinations help in early diagnosis.

Mammogram is like taking an x ray of the breast, there are no side effects except for a slight pain or discomfort caused due to pressure on the breasts which is short lasting. Suspicious lesions have to be biopsied to confirm the disease.

Treatment of breast cancer depends on the type, stage of cancer and overall health condition. A Multidisciplinary board including the experts in various forms of cancer treatment finalise the treatment protocol. In its early stages, breast conservation surgery is possible. Based on the risks for recurrence, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and radiation may have to be given to ensure that the condition does not recur. Generally the treatment lasts for a couple of months and patients are generally able to continue with their normal activities during this period as most of the treatment including chemotherapy and radiation are given on outpatient basis.

Know your risk factors, and most importantly learn to self-examine your breasts. The first step towards diagnosing breast cancer is to understand the normal texture of breast so that any change can be brought to medical attention. Regular screening along with lifestyle modifications form a vital aspect of beating breast cancer. Early diagnosis is vital to ensure cure from breast cancer.

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