According to Globocan 2020 data, breast cancer is the most common cancer in Indian females, responsible for more than a quarter of all cases of cancers in the country. Number-wise, this is around 1.7 lakh new cases every year. Since most cases are usually detected in advanced stages, it is important to know early signs of breast cancer so that diagnosis can be done at an earlier stage which would, in turn, result in better treatment. We asked Dr Fahad Afzal Shaikh, a registered Medical Oncologist and Hemato Oncologist practising at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre in Mumbai, to list out the red flags that you need to watch out for. “Breast cancer is due to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the breast. Breast cancer can manifest in a variety of symptoms, or some cases with no symptoms at all,” says Dr Fahad. He lays down the most common symptoms below:
1. Lump in the breast: This is usually the first symptom of breast cancer in many. These lumps may be noticed during self-examination or in screening mammograms where they may be seen before one can feel them.
2. Swelling in the armpit: This could mean that cancer has spread from the breast to lymph nodes around that area. These are usually painless small lumps that may even be felt around the collar bone.
3. Pain: Lumps due to breast cancer are generally painless. However, sometimes there may be a mild pricking sensation or discomfort.
4. Changes in the nipple: The nipple might pull inward or develop a rash that may simply not heal for weeks. There may be associated itching and burning sensation.
5. Unusual discharge from nipple: Along with nipple changes, breast cancer may occasionally present with clear or blood-tinged discharge.
“These symptoms may not always mean that there is underlying cancer. Sharp pain in the breast may seem worrisome but is often due to non-cancerous reasons such as inflammation, trauma, or hormone fluctuations,” says Dr Fahad.
“Similarly, a lump in the breast may also be seen in fibroadenoma, cyst, lactating breast (milk cysts), etc,” he adds. It is important to see an oncologist whenever there are symptoms suspicious of breast cancer. Besides the above mentioned symptoms, according to Dr Fahad, patients with advanced breast cancer may also complain of bone pain, headache, unexplained loss of weight and appetite, dry cough, or shortness of breath due to the distant spread of the disease.
Early detection is possible with monthly breast self-examinations, routine clinical breast examinations, and mammograms according to age and risk. So if you spot any of these signs get in touch with an oncologist.