Most of the common signs of breast cancer are signs that you’ll notice right away:
Blood or discharge from a nipple
A nipple that has suddenly become inverted (a nipple that’s pointing inward) or a nipple that’s situated differently than it was before, or changed shape or size.
A crusty nipple or flaking skin on the nipple
Puckering, dimpling or pitting of the skin of the breast, with or without redness
Breast tenderness and pain with no other explanation such as hormones or your cycle
A change in the size or shape of the breast
Those possible signs of breast cancer are relatively easy to spot. But even though a lump or a change in a specific area of the breast is often a potential sign, this can be the hardest one for most women to detect.
That’s because breast tissue is naturally lumpy in spots. A woman giving herself a breast exam may feel normal tissue and worry that it’s a lump, or may feel a very small lump an mistake it for normal, glandular breast tissue. Regular mammograms can help detect lumps that you can’t feel with your fingers or that are disguised as normal breast tissue. But regular self-exams can help you distinguish the difference between lumps or cysts and normal tissue.
If you feel something suspicious during a self-exam, first relax. Feel the same spot on the other breast carefully to compare. You may find that the opposite breast closely mirrors what you’ve found, confirming that’s it the normal texture of your breasts in that area. If you don’t find a matching lump or bump on the opposite breast, take a break and try not to dwell or worry. About 80% of all lumps are benign, so even if you have discovered a lump in your breast, there’s a good chance that it’s merely a cyst.
Later, repeat the exam to find the lump. Then recheck the other breast. You may find that the tissue seems normal now where it did not before. If you still can’t find a matching texture in the other breast, then have it checked by your doctor.
Lumps are one of the most panic-inducing signs of breast cancer because everyone knows that’s a possibility, even though a lump isn’t likely to be anything dangerous. Another potential sign of breast cancer is even more subtle than a lump and can be missed except when you do regular exams is an area than changes without a lump being present.
If an area on your breast has grown harder or softer, that’s something you want to have your doctor check into immediately. There doesn’t have to be a lump present. This is one of the reasons that all women should do a monthly breast exam. The more you do the exams, the more familiar you are with your breasts. The more familiar you are with them, the sooner you’ll be able to detect a change that could be one of the signs of breast cancer.