The most obvious symptom of breast cancer is a lump: we're widely encouraged to check for them regularly (and so you should, following the video above). But it should come as no surprise that a lump is by no means the only way it might manifest - so what about the other symptoms of breast cancer? The less common ones you might not have heard of?
It's always useful to clue yourself up on all the possible ways your body might be trying to tell you you've got cancer. While in the grand scheme of things, it's always more likely to be nothing than something, breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the UK, with around 150 new cases being diagnosed every single day.
The COVID pandemic has disrupted health services across the board, which is hugely worrying to cancer specialists across the country. In fact, according to breast cancer charity Breast Cancer Now, they estimate that almost 11,000 people in the UK are living with breast cancer but don't know it yet. The research showed that around 10,700 fewer people across the UK were diagnosed with breast cancer between March and December 2020 than usual, leading the charity to warn that "in the worst cases, some women could die as a result of delayed diagnoses."
With this in mind, we thought it was worth delving into some of the lesser known breast cancer symptoms. With a little help from some experts from HCA UK, here are three ailments you might not have known could be associated with breast cancer...
What are some other symptoms of breast cancer?
1. An inverted nipple
"An inverted nipple is when the nipple is when the nipple is inward instead of outward," explains Mr Richard Johnson, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon and Medical Director at the Wilmslow Hospital. "Some women are born with inverted nipples and this is usually no cause for concern. However, if you have noticed that your nipples were previously outward and having started to change in any way and are starting to retract – then this is something you need to seek advice on from a professional." The expert points out that there can be other causes of inverted nipples, so nobody should jump to any immediate conclusions that an inverted nipple equals breast cancer, but "it is important you get this symptom checked by a doctor just in case," he urges.
2. Bloody discharge from nipple
We're used to discharge elsewhere, but if it starts emerging from your nipples, this could be cause for concern, says the doctor. "Nipple discharge is when you experience a liquid coming out of the nipple. Often women can experience nipple discharge and it can be for a number of different reasons, if you’re breastfeeding, or it could be a sign of an infection," notes Johnson. He adds: "However, if you are experiencing bloody discharge from the nipple, this is quite serious and you should seek some medical guidance so that a doctor can run some further tests, as it can be a less common sign of breast cancer that does need to be investigated."
3. Red skin on the breast
It's not just the nipple that may indicate possible breast cancer - it can be the skin on the boob too. "Red skin on the breast is can sometimes be a sign or symptom of breast cancer, although it is one that is less common," explains Mr Daniel Leff, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at The Breast Unit at The Harley Street Clinic. "One form of breast cancer that presents with red skin on the breast could be inflammatory breast cancer which can make a large area of the breast skin go red, as well as swollen," he adds.
As with the other symptoms, however, there's no need to assume it definitely means breast cancer, as it could be something much less cause for concern. "It's important to note that red skin suggests inflammation which could just be the signs of an infection," reassures medical expert Leff. "Infections in the breast tend to be most common in women who are breast feeding, who are likely to get conditions such as mastitis – which can make your breast quite sore and painful, and make it difficult to breastfeed, although if caught quickly this can be rectified with oral antibiotics and hospital admission might be avoided." If you're not, breastfeeding and you notice red skin on the breast, Leff suggests seeking medical advice as it may need further investigation.
What should you do if you spot any of these symptoms:
"Unfortunately, breast cancer is a common type of cancer that some women will encounter in their lifetime," says Daniel Leff. According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 55,200 new cases of breast cancer every year, so the doctor says it's "vital that women know the signs and symptoms, even the less common ones. If you do experience any of the above, seek medical advice from your GP who can refer you if necessary," he adds.
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