A breast lump or mass is just one of the possible signs of breast cancer. Breast cancer can cause several additional changes to the skin on and around the breast.
In some cases, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms, but a doctor will identify a mass on a mammogram. Screening for breast cancer as recommended by a doctor can help detect this condition in its earliest and most treatable stage.
All of these symptoms can also have a noncancerous underlying cause. However, people with these symptoms should speak to their doctor in case tests are necessary to check for both noncancerous and cancerous conditions.
1) Changes in the skins structure
Breast cancer can cause changes and inflammation in skin cells that can lead to texture changes. Examples of these texture changes include scaly skin around the nipple, as though the skin is sunburned or extremely dry and skin thickening in any part of the breast.
2) Nipple discharge
A person may observe discharge from the nipple, which can be thin or thick and can range in color from clear to milky to yellow, green, or red.
It is normal for people who are breastfeeding to have a milky discharge from the nipples, but it is advisable to see a doctor about any other nipple discharge.
Although most nipple discharge is noncancerous, it can signify breast cancer in some people.
Skin dimpling can sometimes be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer. Cancer cells can cause a buildup of lymph fluid in the breast that leads to swelling as well as dimpling or pitted skin. It is essential that anyone who notices skin dimpling speaks with a doctor.
4) Lymph node changes
Lymph nodes are small, rounded collections of immune system tissue that filter fluid and capture potentially harmful cells. These include bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.
If a cancer cell leaves the breast, the first place it travels to is the underarm lymph node region on the same side as the affected breast. This can lead to swelling in this area.
5) Breast or nipple pain
Breast cancer can cause changes in skin cells that lead to feelings of pain, tenderness, and discomfort in the breast. Although breast cancer is often painless, it is important not to ignore any signs or symptoms that could be due to breast cancer.
6) Nipple inversion
Breast cancer can cause cell changes behind the nipple. These changes can result in the nipple inverting and reversing inward into the breast, or it may look different in terms of its size.
The appearance of the nipples can often alter during ovulation or other parts of the menstrual cycle, but people should see a doctor about any new nipple changes.
Breast cancer can cause changes to the skin that may make it appear discolored or even bruised. The skin may be red or purple or have a bluish tint.
If a person has not experienced recent trauma to the breast to explain these changes, they should see their doctor. It is also vital to seek medical advice if breast discoloration does not disappear, even if trauma was the cause.
Breast cancer can cause the entire breast or an area of the breast to swell. There may not be a distinct lump after this swelling, but the breast may be different in size than the other breast.
Although it is possible for people to have breasts that are slightly different in size at all times, this swelling would cause a change from their usual breast size.
The skin may also feel tight due to the swelling.
In conclusion, breast cancer can cause signs and symptoms that include changes to the skin on and around the breast. While many conditions can potentially cause breast changes, including cysts, infections, eczema, and dermatitis, a person should not automatically rule out breast cancer.
Seeing a doctor for evaluation and diagnosis can help determine whether or not any breast changes are cause for concern.
How Can Women Lower Their Risk of Breast Cancer?
Every woman wants to know what she can do to lower her risk of breast cancer. Some of the factors associated with breast cancer – being a woman, age, and genetics – can’t be changed. Other factors – being overweight, lack of exercise, eating unhealthy food – can be changed by making the right choices. By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options, all women can empower themselves and make sure the risk of developing breast cancer is as low as possible.
Researchers prioritized the following breast cancer prevention strategies:
Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight throughout life: Exercise and being at a healthy weight can reduce the risk of breast and other cancers. Research has shown that gaining weight after age 18 is linked to a higher risk of postmenopausal breast cancer that is directly related to the amount of weight gained. This higher risk is because fat cells make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body, and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.
At the same time, overweight postmenopausal women who lost 22 or more pounds and kept it off reduced their breast cancer risk by more than 50% compared to women who didn’t lose weight.
Regular exercise reduces breast cancer risk for both pre- and postmenopausal women. The American Cancer Society and many doctors recommend women exercise 4 to 5 hours per week at a moderate intensity level. Brisk walking is considered moderate intensity exercise.
Limit alcohol: Research suggests that drinking more increases breast cancer risk. Each 10-gram-per-day increase in alcohol consumption leads to a 7% to 10% increase in breast cancer risk (an average drink has about 14 grams of alcohol). Even light drinking can increase risk.
Still, many people believe the heart benefits of drinking alcohol, especially red wine, outweigh any breast cancer risks. But it’s important to know that there are other ways to keep your heart healthy besides drinking alcohol. Women who are concerned about breast cancer risk may want to limit alcohol or avoid it completely.
The researchers reported that women who most closely stuck to the American Cancer Society guidelines for weight, diet, drinking alcohol, and exercise had a 22% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who strayed the farthest from the guidelines.
Consider preventive medicine: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released new guidelines on using hormonal therapy medicines to reduce risk in women with a high risk of breast cancer who haven’t been diagnosed.
The USPSTF guidelines say that doctors should offer the medicines tamoxifen and raloxifene to women aged 35 and older with a high risk of breast cancer who have never been diagnosed to reduce their risk. The task force didn’t recommend that women at average or low risk of breast cancer be offered these medicines. Hot flashes and night sweats are side effects, though they’re more common with tamoxifen. The medicines can sometimes cause dangerous blood clots in rare cases. This complication is more common with tamoxifen.
While studies show the effectiveness of these medicines, other research has found that they’re not widely prescribed by doctors or taken by women at high risk of breast cancer because of concerns about side effects.
The study was published in the May/June 2014 issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. It's available here: “Priorities for the primary prevention of breast cancer.”