Early symptoms for breast cancer are lumps and hardening in the breast tissue up to the armpits. In percentage terms, half of these hardenings are often located in the upper outer area of the breast, more rarely in the upper inner area. Find out everything about possible early symptoms for breast cancer here!
Early symptoms for breast cancer
Most breast tumors (about half) in women occur in the upper outer part of the breast, about 15% in the inner upper part. The left breast is affected more often than the right.
In the early stages, breast cancer usually does not cause any discomfort or pain. Women should pay even more attention to certain signs that could indicate possible cancer.
If the disease is already advanced, symptoms caused by metastases can occur, such as bone pain, difficult breathing or weight loss.
If you discover one or more of the following early symptoms for breast cancer, do not hesitate and consult your gynecologist! The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chances of recovery.
Lumps in the breast
Lumps are usually only palpable from a size of approx. 1-2 cm – depending on the location (directly under the skin or deeper), the condition of the breast (lumpy or non-lumpy breast) and the breast size. They cannot be moved, feel firm and are usually not painful. But not every knot means cancer; however, always have palpation findings clarified.
Changes in the nipples
Newly occurring constrictions at one point or depressions of the entire nipple are just as much an alarm signal as inflammation and skin changes or secretions, especially if they are bloody or only occur on one side.
Changes in breast size
Most women’s breasts vary in size. However, if the difference in size occurs again, this is a reason to see a doctor. The different behavior of both breasts when raising your arms is also a sign that needs to be clarified.
Constrictions and other noticeable changes in the skin (large pores, “orange peel skin”) are a possible warning early symptoms for breast cancer, as is redness and inflammation that does not go away.
Swelling in the armpit
Swelling and lumps in the armpit can indicate lymph node metastases. However, swelling can also occur with infections.
Important early symptoms for breast cancer
But what are possible signs of breast cancer for which it is best to see your gynecologist as soon as possible? The main early symptoms for breast cancer are :
- New lumps or hardening in the breast (usually in the upper outer quadrant) or armpit.
- Changed size or shape of a breast.
- Differences in the movement of the two breasts when raising the arms.
- Pinched breast skin or nipple.
- Changes in the color or sensitivity of the breast skin, areola or nipple.
- Watery or bloody secretions from a nipple.
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit.
- New reddening or scaling of the breast skin that does not go away.
Do not be alarmed if you discover one or more of these symptoms in yourself! There are often relatively harmless causes behind it.
For example, if the lymph glands in your armpit are enlarged, the reason may be an infection. If a pressure-sensitive lump can be felt in the breast tissue, it is often just a benign tumor, a harmless cyst or dense connective tissue.
Nevertheless, go to the gynecologist immediately to get certainty quickly. If the cause of your symptoms is harmless, you can rest easy. However, if the symptoms are actually breast cancer, early detection and treatment of the tumor can significantly improve your chances of recovery!
Does breast cancer cause pain?
There is actually no pain with breast cancer, even when the first symptoms appear or a lump has been palpated. This is exactly the reason why we should be very careful with our body as part of preventive care. In this way, even small changes can be noticed, which should then be discussed with the gynecologist.
How does breast cancer make you feel?
Even if you don’t feel any pain, the diagnosis of breast cancer is of course a shock. Unfortunately, on average, every eighth woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. The majority of breast cancer cases occur by chance, i.e. without the disease having previously occurred in the family. Around half of those affected are under 65 at the time of diagnosis – around one in ten is even under 45.
What exactly is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor of the mammary gland.
However, more than three quarters of all palpable lumps or breast tumors are benign, i.e. not cancerous. When women feel lumps in their breasts, they are often either fluid-filled cysts or benign growths that originate from connective tissue or fatty tissue. Malignant breast tumors arise from the glandular part of the breast, usually from the milk ducts, or more rarely from the glandular lobules.
What causes breast cancer?
The exact causes of breast cancer are not yet fully understood. In the majority of those affected, the disease occurs spontaneously, which means that doctors cannot identify any clear causes.
However, there are risk factors that can favor the disease. These include:
Advanced age: Most women are over the age of 65 when they are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Long-term use of female sex hormones, for example as hormone replacement therapy during menopause. The birth control pill, on the other hand, increases the risk only slightly.
Onset of menstrual bleeding at a very young age: This means a long period of natural hormone fluctuations in women.
Late onset of menopause: Here, too, the long period of hormonal fluctuations is the problem.
Obesity and lack of exercise after menopause.
Regular increased alcohol consumption.
Childlessness or a first pregnancy after the age of 30.
In about 5 to 10% of all patients, a genetic predisposition is jointly responsible for the development of breast cancer.
What are the chances of recovery?
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer has a relatively favorable course compared to other tumor diseases: 81% of all breast cancer patients survive the disease within five years after the initial diagnosis.
An early diagnosis significantly increases the chances of success of the therapy. That’s why it’s important that you keep an eye on your breasts, you can check for possible changes in the mirror, for example. And of elementary importance: Feel the breasts regularly and correctly!
Which is the most dangerous breast cancer?
How dangerous breast cancer is always depends on the tumor itself and how far the cancer has progressed. Of course, localized tumors are better treated than those that have already spread and may already have formed metastases in the lymph nodes or internal organs.
Breast cancer grading (scale from 1 to 3) can be an indicator of disease severity and prognosis. The numerical value indicates the extent to which the tumor cells differ from healthy breast tissue in terms of growth and appearance. At grade 1 the difference is small, at grade 3 it is very large.
Despite everything, breast cancer is a very individual disease that can take a different course in each person. Physical requirements and predispositions play a major role.
Can men get breast cancer too?
Yes, there is breast cancer in men, but it is much less common than in women. About 620 men fall ill in Germany every year. This means that about one in every hundred breast cancer cases affects a man. The therapeutic measures in men do not differ significantly from those in women.
I have a breast lump – now what?
If you discover a lump when you examine your breasts, you should see your OB/GYN. There your chest will be scanned again exactly as well as the armpits and collarbone pits.
If there is a suspicion, an ultrasound examination is usually carried out as the first measure in women under 40 years of age. In women over the age of 40, a mammography is usually carried out immediately and, under certain circumstances, an ultrasound examination of the breast is also carried out.
For a definitive diagnosis, the doctor takes a tissue sample (biopsy) to determine whether the change is benign or malignant. If there is a breast carcinoma, the biopsy also gives the doctor information about the type of tumor and the degree of aggressiveness.
The so-called tumor markers, i.e. the endogenous substances CEA and CA 15-3, play no role in the actual diagnosis of breast cancer. They are more suitable for follow-up care when it comes to detecting relapses at an early stage.
How is breast cancer treated?
If the diagnosis has shown beyond any doubt that you have breast cancer, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you and tailor the therapy to you and your disease. Which treatment combinations can be used depends on various factors, such as the size of the tumor or the formation of metastases.
In most cases, surgery is required to remove the tumor tissue. Today, surgeons are often able to perform breast-conserving surgery in the early stages of breast cancer. That means: The tumor is removed, but your breast remains. In some cases, for example if there are several cancer foci in one breast or the patient is younger than 45 years, doctors also recommend a so-called radical operation in which the entire breast is removed (mastectomy).
Radiation therapy usually follows the surgical procedure. Chemotherapy and anti-hormone therapy are also possible follow-up therapies.
Breast reconstruction: what are the options?
Breast reconstruction is possible after both a mastectomy and breast-conserving surgery. This so-called breast reconstruction is usually carried out directly after the operation. But you can also do it months or years later. There are two variants of breast reconstruction:
- Reconstruction with the body’s own tissue, for example with muscle tissue or tissue from the abdominal wall.
- Reconstruction with implants or with breast prostheses that can be placed in the bra, for example.
Follow-up care and rehabilitation are so important
Regular follow-up examinations are very important after breast cancer therapy and usually take place every three months. Over time, the gaps will increase. A mammogram is also recommended once a year. Physiotherapy and physical therapy exercises help restore strength and range of motion to the arm and shoulder.
The tumor markers already mentioned are regularly determined by a blood test after breast cancer. They can give clues as to whether the breast cancer has come back.
In addition to medical care, psychological support is also very important. Because breast cancer is a difficult fate, the therapies and of course an operation cost a lot of energy. Talking to a doctor, for example, can be helpful in the case of fears, but also exchanging ideas with relatives and friends. A consultation with a psychologist or a visit to a self-help group can also help those affected to find their way back to life.