Early Signs of Breast Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

Elizabeth Stone, MD – Cleveland Clinic Florida Breast Oncologist

October 7, 2017

Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? You can be proactive by being aware of your body, and knowing what to watch for. The ability to recognize subtle symptoms and warning signs can give you the best chance for an early diagnosis, which offers the highest rate of survival.

"The first step you can take is to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel," says Elizabeth Stone, MD, Cleveland Clinic Florida breast oncologist. Many women choose to perform self-breast exams so they will know if a new lump appears or an existing lump changes size. However, self-breast exams are not a substitute for mammograms, which can uncover breast cancer early on, even before symptoms appear.

Although a lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom, not all lumps are cancer. Other benign breast conditions, such as cysts, can also cause lumps. Normal breast tissue may be lumpy, but knowing your own breasts will help you identify any changes you should become suspicious of, such as:

  • A lump or mass in or near your breast or under your arm
  • Changes in the size or shape of your breast
  • Swelling in or around your breast, collarbone or armpit
  • Nipple changes, such as retraction or a turning inward
  • Nipple discharge, especially if the fluid is bloody
  • Changes such as dimpling, thickening, puckering, irritation or redness of the skin
  • Breast or nipple soreness or pain
  • Warmth and itching of the breast

If you are exhibiting any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. “These changes may not be due to cancer, but you should be evaluated to rule out the possibility,” says Dr. Stone.

Breast cancer can also develop without any warning signs, and in its early stages may not present symptoms. That’s why it’s important to follow the recommended screening guidelines. According to the American Cancer Society, women age 40-44 should begin talking to their physician about their risk factors in consideration of getting a mammogram, and by age 45 they should be getting them annually. Consult with your physician to determine what’s right for you.

“Performing self-breast exams and getting annual mammograms is the most effective routine for early detection. And, discovering breast cancer early on when it’s most treatable, provides a higher chance for a successful outcome,” says Dr. Stone. Identifying breast cancer before it’s had the opportunity to spread can save your life.

Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Maroone Cancer Center offers comprehensive services for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Patients benefit from having an accredited Women’s Imaging Center on-site, offering state-of-the-art screening that includes digital mammography, 3D mammography, breast ultrasound, breast MRI and breast CAD (computer aided detection).

"We offer a multidisciplinary team approach to fighting breast cancer that includes, breast oncologists, breast surgeons, radiation oncologists, genetic counselors, a breast navigator, and other support staff. Our focus is on early and accurate detection," says Dr. Stone.

To schedule your mammogram today, call 866.213.5789, or for more information visit clevelandclinicflorida.org/breastcancer.