The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

November 14, 2012

Medical Edge: Breast cancer can cause symptoms other than a lump

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Besides a lump in the breast, are there other symptoms of breast cancer? Is breast pain something to be concerned about?

ANSWER: Yes, breast cancer can cause symptoms other than a breast lump. To make it easier to spot changes that could be symptoms, you should be familiar with what your breasts usually look like. If you notice any unusual breast changes, have them examined by your doctor.

Breast cancer can lead to a variety of symptoms. The most obvious is a breast lump. But other symptoms include skin changes on your breast, such as redness, dimpling or puckering of the skin. Breast cancer also can cause a skin rash that looks similar to mastitis — an infection of the breast tissue that most often affects women who are breast feeding. If you find a new rash or breast redness, and you are not breast feeding, that should be evaluated by your doctor.

Nipple changes, such as a nipple turning inward, or inverting, or becoming flatter than usual, may be symptoms of breast cancer. In some cases, discharge from a nipple also may signal breast cancer. It is uncommon for breast cancer to cause pain. In fact, less than 10 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer report pain as a symptom. If you have breast pain that lasts and seems to involve one area of the breast, though, have it checked. It could be a symptom of cancer or another breast condition.

Although all of these breast changes may be symptoms of breast cancer, it is worth noting that they can happen for many other reasons, as well. For some, these changes could be symptoms of another underlying problem. Or they may simply be normal changes that don’t indicate any problem at all.

Many women’s breasts change slightly over the course of a month. That’s particularly true for women who have a common condition known as fibrocystic changes of the breast, where the breasts tend to become more tender or lumpier one to two weeks before the onset of menses, and then improve about one week after menses. These changes often involve the entire breast and both breasts. If there is a persistent area of thickening or a nodularity that persists after two to three menstrual cycles, it is recommended that you be evaluated by your physician. You may need additional evaluation with a diagnostic mammogram and or ultrasound. The fibrocystic changes tend to decrease as women age and after menopause as the breast tissue becomes less dense and fattier over time.

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