21/03/2014 06:37 GMT | Updated 13/11/2017 11:26 GMT

Five Signs To Check For Breast Cancer - How To Spot The Symptoms

With the controversy surrounding no make-up selfies to raise breast cancer awareness, knowing which symptoms to look out for is crucial.

Most women know that lumps are a key sign of breast cancer. However, despite this important indicator, lumps may not be evident during the initial phases of cancer.

Also, other forms of breast cancer, such as inflammatory, will not create lumps and therefore must be identified separately.


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Women must always be cautious and watchful of any changes in their breasts which may signal a malignancy.

Here are some of the lesser known symptoms of breast cancer to check for, according to the BrightStar organisation and the New Health Guide site. If you notice any of these, it is advisable that you contact a doctor as early as possible.

1. Sore, red and itchy nipples

The most visible indications of imflammatory breast cancer are scaliness and reddening of the skin on the breast. The skin may become itchy and sore to touch, which can be accompanied by swelling and an outbreak of purple spots resembling bruises. This is due to the type of breast cancer, which blocks the blood vessels, resulting in colour change. Some may also find dimples on their breast.

However, it is important to note some of these symptoms may be caused by other factors. A change in washing detergent, pregnancy, hormone imbalance, or another rash.

If it doesn't appear to be particularly extreme, it may be worth leaving it for a few weeks before consulting your doctor.

If the symptoms persist for longer than a menstrual cycle, get drastically worse, or are confined to one breast - make an appointment.

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2. Upper back pain

You can sometimes spot breast cancer with a pain felt in the back or shoulders, rather than the chest or breast.

This pain can easily be confused with sore muscles after exercise. However, the pain will not decrease with stretching or changing position. Furthermore, it can extend to a bone pain - deep ache or throbbing.

This is caused by the primary spread of breast cancer to the spine or ribs, often becoming secondary spine cancer.

Upper back pain is also one of the first signs to be felt by women who have developed a tumour, due to it lying in the glandular tissue near the chest wall which, as it grows, puts pressure on the spine.

In most cases, women fail to recognize this pain as a sign of breast cancer, and can often dismiss it as muscular strain.

If your back pain doesn’t go away with rest or stretching - consult your doctor.

back pain

3. A change in nipple appearance or size

The growth of a tumor in close proximity to the nipple can be quickly spotted, as changes in shape and appearance develop fast. You may quite easily become aware of it as you get dressed or look in the mirror.

The most common changes associated with breast cancer are a flattening or inversion of the nipple. If your nipple has visibly shrunk, or isn't as prominent as it usually is, this could be a sign.

One of the most common locations for a tumor is under the nipple, which can alter the look and feel of the nipple. There can also be decreased sensitivity, which may be highlighted when engaging in sexual activity.

Equally important is discharge from the nipple without it being pressed. If this liquid includes blood then it is a clearer indication of cancer.


4. Change in breast size

An uneven change in the size or shape of your breasts is often a sign. This is essentially important if you have been informed you have a dense tissue breast as lumps will often be hidden and cannot be felt, sometimes even mammograms can miss them.

A visible loosening or swelling can also be an indicator. However, this is no cause to be severely alarmed. It is best to get a mammogram or check-up at the doctors, and be relieved, than to not detect the presence of a tumour.

breast exam

5. Pain, lumps or swelling in the armpits

A common place to be affected first by cancer is the lymph nodes present in the armpit. Any pain in the armpit must be checked carefully with fingers. Typically, a lump under the armpit will won't move and will be hard to the touch - it may also be particularly sore or tender.

Apart from lumps, swelling can be a symptom when under the arm or the collarbone.

However, colds, flu and infections can also cause swollen lymph nodes, so if you’re ill you may want to wait until you feel better, to see if it is related.