Not Just a Lump: The Subtle Signs of Breast Cancer

Don't Ignore the Signs Understanding the Subtle Indicators of Breast Cancer in Women

Alert! Women Often Overlook Subtle Breast Cancer Symptoms

News Picture: Not Just a Lump: Many Women Miss Subtle Signs of Breast Cancer

The vast majority of women know that finding a lump in their breast could be a sign of cancer. But did you know that there are other subtle signs of breast cancer that you might be missing? It’s time to go beyond the lump and educate ourselves about the various symptoms of this disease.

Dr. Ashley Pariser, a breast medical oncologist and director of breast cancer survivorship services at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, emphasizes the importance of both mammography screening and being familiar with the look and feel of your own breast tissue. She says, “Sometimes subtle changes can be evaluated quickly to give us the best chance at early detection.”

A recent survey conducted by the cancer center found that while 93% of respondents recognized a lump as a potential sign of breast cancer, fewer than half were aware of the other common symptoms. This lack of awareness can delay diagnosis and treatment, potentially impacting outcomes.

To feel empowered about our bodies, we need to know what is normal for us. Breast changes can occur due to aging and childbirth, but they can also be indicators of breast cancer. It’s crucial to address any concerns with your doctor in a timely manner. We have come a long way in detecting breast cancers in their early stages, making them more treatable.

So, what are the lesser-known symptoms of breast cancer? They include a retracted, inverted, or downward-pointing nipple; breast puckering, which may appear as an indentation when you raise your arms; loss of feeling in part of the breast; pitting/thickening of the skin on the breast; or nipple discharge. Surprisingly, the survey revealed that only 31% of respondents would consider a retracted or inverted nipple as a symptom deserving medical attention.

Let’s break down the survey findings:

Symptom Percentage of Respondents Recognizing as Worthy of Medical Attention
Nipple Discharge 51%
Retracted or Inverted Nipple 31%
Breast Puckering 39-45%
Loss of Feeling in Part of the Breast 39-45%
Pitting/Thickening of the Skin on the Breast 39-45%

These numbers clearly show the need for increased awareness and education about the subtle signs of breast cancer.

Apart from the lack of awareness about symptoms, confusion also surrounds breast cancer screening guidelines. Approximately one-third of women admit to being confused about these recommendations, with younger women expressing even more uncertainty. It is essential to discuss screening guidelines with your doctor based on your personal cancer risk and family history.

The American College of Radiology and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend women of average risk begin screening at age 40. However, individual cases may vary, so it’s vital to consult with your doctor for personalized guidance. People with dense breast tissue should be monitored more closely due to their slightly higher risk, as dense tissue can hide small tumors. Additionally, individuals who are Black or of Ashkenazi Jewish descent should have conversations about more intensive screening due to their higher risk.

Breast cancer remains the most common cancer diagnosed in women, after skin cancer. Estimates for 2023 suggest nearly 300,000 new cases and 43,000 deaths. Shockingly, the survey revealed that 75% of women and 91% of men believe they won’t get breast cancer. While breast cancer is less common in men, it does occur, typically presenting as nipple changes. Men with concerning symptoms, especially those with a strong family history of breast cancer, should seek medical attention.

Remember, knowledge is power. By familiarizing ourselves with the subtle signs of breast cancer, we can catch the disease early, increasing the chances of successful treatment. Regular screenings, self-examinations, and open conversations with healthcare professionals are crucial steps in the fight against breast cancer.

Let’s spread the word and empower others to take control of their breast health! Together, we can make a difference.


More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on breast cancer.

Image Source: SLIDESHOW: Breast Cancer Awareness: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Note: All sources are from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, news release, Oct. 16, 2023