Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in around 2020 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed. Throughout the month of October, charities and the medical profession celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now is the time to highlight the advances in breast cancer research and awareness around the disease. However, it can be difficult to know what to look for when you check your breasts. So how do you know if a breast lump is cancerous?
Throughout your menstrual cycle, it is completely normal for your breasts to change. They can appear softer and smaller, or firmer and more cheerful depending on your hormone levels. You will notice that they are different on different days. And knowing your own breasts is a great way to spot changes. However, not all masses are cancerous. This does not take away from the fact that other changes can be uncomfortable and painful.
If you notice a lump, it may be a breast cyst which is a sac filled with fluid in the tissue of your breast. They are often gentle. Likewise, fibroadenomas are lumps in the tissue and feel firmer. Duct ectasia occurs when the milk ducts become swollen or blocked and mastitis is an infection that causes pain and swelling. These are just a few of the reasons why you may notice pain or bumps in your breasts. You should talk to your doctor if you are worried and continue to check your breasts.
Knowing the characteristics of a tumor might help you distinguish between hormonal changes in your breasts or a cyst to something more disturbing. This isn’t always the case, but breast cancer lumps usually don’t move when you examine yourself. They will be hard and can appear anywhere around your chest or armpits. If you also notice that the texture of the skin on your breast looks like orange peel, if you have swelling or notice changes in your nipple, contact your doctor immediately.
An ABC study found that 80% of breast nodules are benign, which means they’re localized and won’t grow or spread to other parts of your body. Some tumors can be precancerous, which means they contain abnormal cells. Malignant tumors are cancerous and are likely to grow.
The sooner you talk to your doctor when you notice changes, the better. Cancer Research UK reports that approximately 98% of people will survive for five years or more after being diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. 90% of people diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer will live the same time. This drops to 70% with the third step and 25% with the fourth step.
Dangerous lumps are often accompanied by other signs that something is wrong. A change to the size or shape of your breasts or the nipples could be a sign that something is wrong. If you notice any discharge from your nipple or pain, you should also see a doctor.
You can check your own breasts at home and it’s good to do this about once a month. Start by looking at your chest, looking for any changes or abnormalities. Raise your arms and do the same and make sure to check for changes in your nipples as well. Then tamp them down to detect any changes in texture or lumps. Associations like CoppaFeel have produced some really accessible ‘how-to’ videos when it comes to checking your breasts and if you’re prone to being too busy, they’ll even send you a monthly reminder.
Finding a lump on your breast can be incredibly scary. However, knowing what’s normal for your body and checking your breasts every month is a great way to keep tabs on any changes. If you notice a lump, you shouldn’t be afraid to contact your clinician immediately. Although many changes end up being mild, it is best to be seen by a doctor.