Breast Cancer Awareness Month is over, but breast health is important year-round and it’s about more than just cancer prevention. Women can experience a number of conditions that might seem alarming but are actually quite normal. Here’s how to tell the difference between signs of one of those conditions and other symptoms you need to see a doctor about.
Breast Pain (Mastalgia)
70% of women experience breast pain at some point in their lives. Breast pain is not a disease and on its own is rarely a sign of cancer, though pain can be mild, moderate, or even severe. It can affect one or both breasts or radiate into the armpit.
Like isolated pain, most nipple discharge is not a sign of breast cancer. It’s normal for many women to be able to squeeze a tiny amount of discharge from their nipples, and this is most common before menopause. Bloody or spontaneous discharge (that occurs without squeezing your breast), and discharge that is persistent and one-sided may indicate a more serious condition and should be checked out as soon as possible. In general, if you experience any discharge from your nipples, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor.
Fibrocystic Breast Condition
Fibrocystic breast condition is marked by tissue sacs filled with fluid (cysts) and changes in the fibrous tissue of the breast. Women with this condition may also experience pain and tenderness.
The presence of these lumps tends to be related to menstrual cycles, and lumps may be more noticeable the week before menstruation. This condition usually affects both breasts but it can also be limited to one specific area of the breast.
Over half of all women – possibly up to 90% – experience a condition like this, making it the most common benign (or non-cancerous) breast condition. It occurs after menstruation, most commonly between the age of 30 and menopause.
Hopefully the information above relieved some nagging concerns for some people, but let’s not leave breast cancer out. Awareness and early detection are key to recovery.
The most common sign of breast cancer, of course, is a new lump or mass in the breast. According to the American Cancer Society, the following are also possible signs of breast cancer:
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- A nipple discharge other than breast milk
To catch lumps early, be sure to do regular breast self-examinations. Instructions on how to do that can be found on the ACS website.