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When should I consult my doctor?

The following are some of the commonest symptoms in the breast that a woman may have. More than 90% of such symptoms may be due of benign breast disease, but many of them need to be evaluated by a doctor, for treatment as well as there is a small chance that some of these symptoms could be the first sign of an underlying cancer. So, be alert!

  • Appearance: Any change in the appearance of breasts should be noticed. Usually in a woman, the two breasts are symmetrical.

  • Bumps: Any contoural change in the breast or any lump/ bump noticed needs immediate doctor's consultation. Lumps may be benign or malignant i.e cancerous.

  • Colour and texture: Discolouration of skin over the breast or changes in texture, making it thick, may be due to infection/ inflammatory condition and very rarely due a so called 'inflammatory breast cancer'.

  • Discharge from the nipple: Discharge from the nipple may also occur in benign conditions, but a blood stained discharge from the nipple is not a good sign, and may be an indicator of an underlying cancer.

  • Excoriations: Excoriations are seen as erosions occuring in nipple and are commonly seen during lactation. If they occur in older age group, they must be brought to a doctor's attention. They can occur in a form of cancer called as 'Paget's' disease of the breast

  • Feeling of discomfort: Discomfort or pain in one breast that is different to what is normal for you.

  • Gynecomastia: This is an enlargement of male breasts. It occurs because of hormonal imbalance and is seen during puberty with second peak after 50yrs.

  • HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy): Women taking a HRT are at a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer, and must visit doctor regularly.

  • Lump: During breast self examination, regularly assess and feel for any new lump or a nodule.

  • Mastalgia: Mastalgia is pain in the breasts. This is more a symptom of young and adolescent women, occurs before the periods. Mastalgia does not usually occur in a cancer.

  • Nipple: Nipple may be a source of symptoms for some women. Like for example, a nipple discharge which is new and not milky, needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Bleeding or moist red areas around the nipple which don't heal easily may be a sign of an underlying cancer. Watch out for the direction of the nipple. Normally, in a women's upright position with hands by the side, the nipple points downwards and outwards. Any change in the position of the nipple, like if it is being pulled 'in' or points in a different direction, must promptly be reported to a doctor.

  • Skin: During regular examination, the skin over the breast must be paid special attention to. In some advanced cancers, the skin over the breast becomes like the 'peel' of the fruit orange. Sometimes, if the skin is tethered to the underlying cancer, there will be 'puckering' of the skin.