Although many women know of the importance of self-examinations, many are unsure of what breast cancer actually feels like.
What Does Breast Cancer Feel Like?
The sensations associated with breast cancer can vary from person to person. Many women may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may feel a lump or thickening in the breast or armpit.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- A lump or thickening in the breast tissue, arm, collar bone, or underarm area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the breast skin
- Itchy, scaly, or rash-like skin around the nipple
- Nipple discharge or inversion
- Pain or tenderness in the breast
Lump or Thickening
In general, breast cancer lumps tend to feel firm or hard to the touch, and may have an irregular shape or edges. They may also feel fixed in place, meaning that they do not move around within the breast tissue.
Some women describe breast cancer lumps as feeling like a small, hard marble or pea under the skin. Others describe them as feeling like a thick, knotty cord or a small, round lump that is tender to the touch.
Not all breast cancer lumps feel the same, and some women may not feel a lump at all. This is why it’s so important to perform regular breast self-exams and get regular mammograms and clinical breast exams.
Also, not all breast lumps are cancerous, but it’s important to have any lumps or changes in your breast checked by a doctor.
Changes in the nipple can also be a sign of breast cancer. These changes may include:
- A nipple that suddenly turns inward (inverted nipple)
- Redness, scaling, or crusting of the nipple or surrounding area
- Discharge from the nipple, especially if it’s bloody
Breast cancer can also cause changes in the skin of the breast. These changes may include:
- Redness or rash on the breast
- Swelling or thickening of the skin
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin, which can make the breast look like an orange peel
Pain or Discomfort
Breast cancer can cause pain or discomfort in the breast, although this is not a common symptom. If you do experience pain or discomfort in your breast, it’s important to have it checked by a doctor.
Performing a breast self-examination is an important way to detect any changes in your breasts. You should perform a self-examination once a month, about a week after your period starts. If you are no longer having periods, you should perform a self-examination on the same day each month.
To perform a self-examination, follow these steps:
- Look at your breasts in the mirror, with your arms at your sides, and then with your arms raised above your head.
- Use your fingers to feel for any lumps or thickening in your breasts, starting at the outer edges and moving in a circular motion.
- Check for any changes in the nipple, such as discharge, inversion, or scaling.
- Check for any changes in the skin of your breasts, such as redness or dimpling.
What Should You Do if You Suspect Breast Cancer?
If you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a lump or thickening, nipple changes, skin changes, or pain or discomfort, see your primary doctor or gynecologist as soon as possible.
Your doctor can perform a clinical examination of your breasts, and may order medical imaging tests to help detect any signs of breast cancer.
If breast cancer is detected, there are a variety of treatment options available, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. The type of treatment that is best for you will depend on the type and stage of breast cancer, as well as your overall health.