Most women are aware that if they discover a lump in their breast, they should have it checked out by a doctor – immediately. Most also are (hopefully) having regular breast examinations and being vigilant about checking their own breasts in the shower.
What a lot of us don’t know, however, is that even though the discovery of a lump is usually the most obvious and classic sign, breast cancer can present itself in a number of other, often very subtle, ways.
Which is exactly how Lisa Royle of Manchester, England, recently discovered a malignant breast cancer. She post a selfie on Facebook that went viral to highlight her only symptom. A symptom that was so subtle, she almost missed it.
Her only warning was this:
A slight puckering (sometimes describes as dimpling) of the skin, underneath the breast. "This is all that I found," she wrote before she underwent a mastectomy. "Very subtle dimples underneath that could easily be missed" Royle urged other women on Facebook to "Please take time to look at your boobs, it could save [your] life."
A survey of women in the UK shows that fewer than half of women over 70 could name a single symptom of breast cancer other than a lump, highlighting the lack of knowledge that exists in this area.
So what is it we should be on the lookout for? Whilst the following six warning signs aren't a definitive list, they are some of the lesser known symptoms of breast cancer that we should be watching out for:
1. Itchy breasts
This symptom, mostly associated with inflammatory breast cancer, is often not noticed. So many women with breast cancer spend months visiting the dermatologist, only to be sent home with creams and medications for a rash. If it is extremely itchy and it makes you feel like scratching, constantly, continue to ask questions until you get answers.
2. Upper back, shoulder and neck pain
Sometimes, breast cancer can be felt in the back or shoulders rather than the chest or breasts. The pain can easily be confused with sore muscles. The difference is the pain doesn’t go away with stretching or changing position. Bone pain is a deep ache or throbbing, and the first place breast cancer usually spreads is to the spine or ribs, becoming secondary spine cancer. If back pain doesn’t go away with rest, stretching or physical therapy, see a doctor.
3. Changes in breast shape, size or appearance
Your partner might notice this change even before you do. Or it might become obvious to you when you put your bra on and look in the mirror. Tissue growth might push out the shape or size of the breast without causing an obvious lump. Be particularly alert if you’ve been told you have dense breast tissue. Study the shape and size of your breasts in a mirror. If there’s a difference in size or shape you haven’t ever noticed, approach your doctor.