Do you pay much attention to your breasts? If you don’t, you certainly should, for health reasons if for nothing else.

Women everywhere are urged to check their breasts regularly for early signs of breast cancer, but there are a number of signs and symptoms that are often overlooked. Being well informed will help you to know exactly what to look for when the time comes, which is why we’ve compiled a list of things to be aware of and what these changes might mean.

Isolated lumps

Many people believe that the only early indicator of breast cancer is if they feel a lump in their breast. This is the most common way that doctors recognize first signs of breast cancer and they usually do this with mammogram x-rays.  However, mammograms do not find every case of breast cancer, so you should be aware of certain changes. Some things to ask yourself are:

Can you feel a lump in the breast, upper chest or armpit?

Is there a lumpy area or unusual thickening of the breast tissue? 

Is there any unusual pain in the breast or the armpit?

Swelling of the breast

Breast swelling is one of the most common symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, which is a particularly aggressive form of the disease. This grows and spreads quickly, usually to nearby lymph nodes by the time any symptoms are noted. If the affected area gets larger, do not hesitate to contact your doctor for a thorough examination.

Change in skin texture

If the skin around your breast starts to feel different (the texture of which can be compared to an orange peel) or gets red, you should have it checked out right away. The changing of texture in the skin is usually caused by something called mastitis, a breast infection that is common among women who are breastfeeding. However, these symptoms can also indicate inflammatory breast cancer, which can grow quickly.

Change in the direction of the nipple

Sometimes, breast cancer can cause a change in the way your nipple looks. If your nipple is turned inward or is pointing differently, get it checked out right away. You should also be aware of any changes in the look or shape of your breast if you move your arm upward.

Nipple discharge

Any discharge from your breast that isn’t milk is one of the most alarming warning signs of breast cancer. In most cases, discharge can be caused by infection, injury or a non-cancerous benign tumor, but there is a possibility that it could be breast cancer, particularly if there is blood in the discharge or if it is clear. There is also cause for concern if the discharge is consistently coming out of one spot on the nipple.

A rash or crusting

An eczema-like change of the nipple skin is known as Paget’s disease, and it is a rare condition associated with breast cancer. Although only 1-4% of women who suffer from breast cancer have this symptom, it is 100% necessary that you speak to a medical professional if you discover this change. As with most things, the sooner it is diagnosed, the better the outcome is likely to be.

A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone

Sometimes breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes found under the arm or around the collar bone, and if this is the case, it will cause a lump or swelling to appear there. If you believe you have swollen lymph nodes, you should get them checked out by a professional.

Pain or discomfort

Although pain or discomfort in your breasts could be caused by menstruation, any pain outside of this time that is persistent should be considered carefully. It may not always be cancer, but it could be a benign condition that needs to be treated.

Warmth or itching

Much like the changing of skin texture, these symptoms can be caused by mastitis or inflammatory breast cancer. If your prescribed mastitis medication doesn’t seem to be working, it’s good to check with your doctor again just to be on the safe side.

Any other unusual change

Some people think that breast cancer will cause other symptoms apart from a change in the feel or appearance of the breasts, such as feeling tired or weight loss. This is not the case, but if you notice an unusual change in your breasts, it is important to contact your doctor just to be sure.

If you find breast cancer as early as possible, you’ll have a better chance of treating it successfully. Knowing what to look for is in no way a substitute for mammograms and other tests, however, as these can help to find cancer even before any symptoms have appeared. Remember – it’s better to be safe than sorry!