A new report has found that one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer had other warning signs they should have paid attention to. Women need to be educated about “non-lump” symptoms to catch the potentially fatal illness earlier on, experts out of University College London and Cancer Research UK say.
“It is crucial that women are aware that a lump is not the only symptom of breast cancer. If they are worried about any breast symptoms, the best thing to do is get it checked by a doctor as soon as possible,” Monica Koo, the report’s lead author, said.
“This research shows that, all too often, women are delaying going to their doctor with symptoms of breast cancer. This could be because people are simply unaware that breast cancer can present in many different ways, not just through the presence of a lump,” Dr. Karen Kennedy, of the UK’s National Cancer Research Institute, said.
Their findings stem from studying more than 2,300 breast cancers diagnosed in England in 2009 and 2010. Most women sought help from their doctors quickly, but if a lump wasn’t present, women tended to delay getting medical attention.
A lump in the breast is the most common first sign, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Sometimes a woman finds the lump or it’s picked up on a screening mammogram before it can be felt.
- The lump is always present, doesn’t get smaller and doesn’t go away with the menstrual cycle. It could even feel attached to the skin and cannot be moved.
- It could feel hard, irregular in shape and very different from the rest of the breast tissue
- It could be tender but it’s typically not painful. (Pain is more often tied to a benign lump but it should still be checked)
Other signs and symptoms of breast cancer that women need to pay attention to include:
- Skin changes, such as if the breast becomes dimpled or puckered. Sometimes this is called orange peel skin or peau d’orange.
- Redness, swelling, itchiness and warmth could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
- Nipple changes, such as suddenly becoming inverted, or leaving discharge without squeezing.
- Bone pain
- Nausea, loss of appetite and weight loss
- Shortness of breath and coughing
- Headaches, double vision and muscle weakness
The British report said that women who had nipple abnormalities, inflammation, a swollen arm or armpit or pain in their arms or armpit tended to wait longer than three months to get help.
Read the full report.