Symptoms Of Breast Cancer And Early Warning Signs

Symptoms Of Breast Cancer

Introduction

A tumor is a mass of tissue formed as a result of excess, abnormal, and uncoordinated growth of cells. Tumors can be ‘benign’ when they are localized and slow-growing without causing much difficulty to the patient, or ‘malignant’ when they are invasive, and may eventually cause death. Malignancy is often referred to as cancer. 

Common signs and symptoms of cancer include weight loss, painful and swollen lymph nodes, uncontrollable bleeding, weakness, frequent injuries that do not heal easily, and much more. There are different types of cancer such as breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, oral cancer, uterine cancer, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer.

Cancer of the breast is often seen in females and rarely in males. The ratio of female breast cancer over male breast cancer is 99: 1. Approximately, 2.1 million women suffer from breast cancer each year. It is estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer in the year 2018. Keep in mind, women above 40 years of age are more prone to breast cancer.

Risk Factors Leading to Breast Cancer

Female breast cancer is among the most common type of cancers in the world. It is usually present as a painless palpable lump on the breast. Though all lumps are not cancerous but can eventually cause cancer. Thus, irrespective of age at which they occur, they should be removed surgically. The higher the age, the more are the chances of the lump turning out to be a cancer.

Various risk factors have been identified for the development of breast cancer.

Some of them are as follows: 

  • Family history: Blood relatives (daughter, mother, sister) of women with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing it.
  • Menstrual or pregnancy history: Risk of breast cancer is directly related to the total span of the menstrual life. Thus, women with early menarche and delayed menopause are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Along with that, women who have never given birth to a child (nulliparity) and women with late age of first childbirth are also at high risk.
  • Hormonal factors: Excess estrogen (produced by the body) and externally administered estrogen for a prolonged duration is a significant risk factor. 
  • Genetic factors: Almost 10% of breast cancers are caused by inherited mutations.
  • Fibrocystic change: Non-cancerous changes in the breast associated with atypical epithelial hyperplasia (increase in the amount of organic tissue) is a precancerous condition. 
  • Geographic factors: Incidences of breast cancer in developed countries are higher as compared to developing or underdeveloped countries.
  • Miscellaneous factors: They include excess consumption of animal fat, cigarette smoking, heavy breasts, alcohol consumption, etc.

Symptoms and Signs of Breast Cancer

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer can vary from person to person. Some people may have many symptoms while others may have no symptoms at all. The following are some signs and symptoms of breast cancer: 

  • Painful or painless lumps on the breast or armpit (underarms): Cancerous lumps are typically large and painless. They are easily palpable and thus can felt from outside of the body. Lumps may appear irregular, smooth, and easily movable as in Fibroadenoma (non- cancerous breast tumor).
  • Changes in the shape and increase in the size of the breast: There can be a flat or indented area on or near the breasts. The breast may have a pitted or ridged appearance as an orange peel (peau d’orange), a symptom often seen in inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Discharge from nipple other than milk:  The nipple leaks out on its own and produces a clear discharge, or even blood. The texture can be thick, thin, or sticky. Nipple discharge can be caused by Intraductal carcinoma in situ (ICIS), Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), and Paget’s disease of the nipple.
  • Changes in the nipple: Cell changes behind the nipple may result in nipple retraction or inversion. Rashes on the nipple and flaky skin may occur. In fact, redness, decrease in the size of the nipple, and pain is also common.
  • Redness and tenderness of the breast is a feature of inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Thickened mass or swelling in and around the breast: Solid lumps indicate breast cancer. The blockage of lymph vessels by cancer cells results in building up of lymph in the vessels that lead to swelling of those areas. 
  • Itchy breast is a sign of Paget’s disease of the breast. However, the itching of the breast is an uncommon sign of breast cancer. Sweating and rash are more commonly known to cause itchiness on the breasts.  
  • Changes in the skin color of the breast:  Skin may appear discolored, reddish, or bruised and may have a bluish tint.
  • Rashes and flaky skin of the nipple and the breast: An eczematous lesion of the nipple that is often associated with ductal carcinoma is indicative of Paget’s disease of the nipple.

Types of Breast Cancer

In general, breast carcinoma (cancer) is of two types- Invasive and Non- Invasive (In situ). The ductal epithelium is responsible for 90% of cases of breast cancer and the rest 10% arises from the lobular epithelium. The following are the types of breast cancer:  

Invasive

  • Infiltrating ductal carcinoma: Most classic breast cancer, accounting for 80% of cases of breast cancer.
  • Infiltrating lobular carcinoma: It has a multicentric origin and accounts for 10% of cases of breast cancer.
  • Colloid carcinoma: It is slow-growing and more frequent in older women.
  • Tubular carcinoma: These tumors are generally small and irregular.
  • Medullary carcinoma: Mass of the tumor is soft, fleshy, and brain-like.
  • Inflammatory carcinoma: It is characterized by redness, tenderness, rapid enlargement, and edema.
  • Secretory carcinoma: It is also called juvenile carcinoma due to frequent occurrence in children and young girls.
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma: It has a unique histologic pattern where islands of cells having cribriform appearance invade stroma.
  • Metaplastic carcinoma: This term includes various categories of carcinomas such as spindle –cell carcinoma, carcinosarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Papillary carcinoma: It is a rare variety where papillary structures invade the stroma.

Non-Invasive

  • Intraductal carcinoma: It is confined within larger mammary ducts, producing a palpable mass in 30-70% of cases along with nipple discharge in 30% hosts.
  • Lobular carcinoma: It is a non-palpable tumor.

Metastatic (spreading from the initial site to various other sites) breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body such as lungs, brain, liver, and bones. They are thus more frightening.

Conclusion

Many of the symptoms may or may not be associated with breast cancer in the early stages and could be a symptom of other diseases too. However, they can lead to cancer. It is treatable at its early stages; the last stages often lead to death. To avoid any serious complication, you must consult your doctor as you notice any abnormal changes in your breasts.