Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, and by far the most common in women. It is important women and men are aware of the symptoms so they get an early diagnosis
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The common cancer has also become a more frequent diagnosis, increasing by around 3% over the last decade, and it is also more likely to develop in older people but can affect anyone at any stage.
It is vital that people know how to spot what may be a suspicious sign of the cancer on their skin, and at what point they should seek medical advice.
The general rule with cancer is that the earlier it’s caught the better, as it can be treated all the more quickly, increasing a person’s chances of survival.
So what are the signs?
What are the signs of breast cancer?
There are a number of potential signs people should keep their eye out for when checking themselves regularly.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by doctors in India looked at the case of a 65-year-old man at a dermatology clinic in the country.
Over a period of around seven months, the man saw a thickening of skin over his left arm and the left side of his chest.
This was attributed to lymphedema, when the lymph system becomes blocked and there is a build-up of fluid, and erythematous nodules, the inflammation of fat cells under the skin.
The symptoms were painless and doctors noted the case to be one of ‘carcinoma en cuirasse’, a form of cancer.
The patient was given palliative chemotherapy.
The NHS lists the following as signs of breast cancer to look out for:
- a new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- a discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- a change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a rash or redness
- a rash (like eczema), crusting, scaly or itchy skin or redness on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
What to do if you think you find a worrying lump?
If you find a worrying lump, then you should contact your doctor immediately.
Your GP will then assess you and determine if you require further consultation at a specialist breast cancer clinic.
Routine tests involve a mammogram, an X-ray of your breasts, and you may also need an ultrasound, typically if you are under the age of 35.
Breasts in people under the age of 35 are denser so it is harder for X-rays to pick up abnormalities.
If your doctors have significant concerns they will take a biopsy – a sample of your cells in the affected area – and send it away for tests to confirm if the cells are cancerous.
Biopsies can be taken in different ways:
Needle aspiration – a small needle used to extract a sample of cells.
Needle biopsy – a sample of tissue taken by a large needle. This may require local anaesthetic, so you will be awake but your breast tissue numbed.
Vacuum-assisted biopsy – a needle is attached to a small suction tube, which gently helps to clear any bleeding and obtain a sample.
The NHS stresses most breast lumps are harmless, but some can be serious so you should always get checked out by a GP at your earliest opportunity.