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Signs of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer amongst women globally and in India. It claims the highest number of lives (amongst women) out of all forms of cancer.  Even men can get breast cancer though the occurrence is much rarer. Breast cancer impacts close to 2 million women each year around the world. Curiously enough, breast cancer rates are higher in developed countries: Belgium (followed by Luxembourg) sees the highest number of breast cancer cases in the world. Like all diseases: early detection is paramount in ensuring the best chances of survival and a solid possibility of resuming a normal life. Poor access to health facilities and lack of social awareness aggregate the issue.

Most common Symptoms of Breast cancer are lumps that form in the breasts (chest in the case of men, who have breast tissue). One might experience sharp pain upon touching the lump or pain may be felt in the entire breast. Breast cancer hides itself very well during early stages and clear symptoms are hard to detect. All pain or discomfort in the breast is not breast cancer, this must be kept in mind before forming opinions, especially without consulting a doctor. Breast pain or “mastalgia” can be caused due to hormonal changes or imbalance during menstruation, infertility medication, contraceptive pills, cysts, an uncomfortably tight brassier, stress related pain and large breasts. Even if lumps are formed, there is no need to be fatalistic as most lumps are benign (they are not cancerous). Benign breast lumps can form due to other causes such as infection, fibrocystic breast disease, fibroadenoma (noncancerous tumours) or damaged tissue (also called “fat necrosis” and in this case a biopsy is required to distinguish the lump from a cancerous one).

“Early” signs of breast cancer can include a change in shape of the nipple, mild to medium pain repeatedly, lumps that remain after a period has gotten over, nipple discharge in red, brown, yellow accompanied with rashness and itching across the breast and swelling around the collarbone or near the armpits. Remember if lumps are not hard and firm, they are most likely benign. Clearer, more apparent and “later” signs of breast cancer include relative enlargement of one breast, a retracted (inward moving) nipple, dimpling (when the texture of the breast is akin to an orange peel’s), appearance of veins on the breast and finally; large and hard lump formations on the breast.

Though uncommon; even men get breast cancer or “male breast cancer”, this usually occurs in older men. Like women, men have breast tissue which can get damaged and turn cancerous. The reason male breast cancer is rare stems from the fact that male breast cells are far less developed in comparison to women. The symptoms of male breast cancer are hardened breast tissue, nipple discharge, redness and itching accompanied by swelling and retracted nipple.

Examinations are available for determining the presence of breast cancer. A doctor can physically examine the breast to check for swelling, rashes or lumps and nipple discharge. At times breast cancer is attributable to inheritance; the doctor might ask for any prior family history with breast cancer. A mammogram will usually reveal whether lumps are benign or cancerous and an ultrasound can complement for diagnosis. An MRI is another non-invasive option and a biopsy may be required to examine the extracted tissue physically.

Remember to be aware, especially when it comes to one’s body and the changes it may be going through.

Dr. Madhukar Bhardwaj
Senior Consultant
Neurology

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