Our breasts are complicated structures composed of two different types of tissue each of which can have its own set of problems. Having an annual mammogram is an important part of detecting breast cancer before there are any symptoms, but we need to monitor our health all year long.
It is not unusual throughout the month for breasts to be tender or to change slightly in size. At times, one may even appear slightly larger than the other. These things are worth keeping an eye on, but you don’t need to be concerned unless it persists over several weeks.
Most lumps or changes are the result of a benign breast condition that may have a frightening name but isn’t life threatening and is often easily treatable, if it has to be treated at all. Still, it can be difficult to distinguish a benign condition from cancer based on appearance alone, so it is best to get any change checked out.
The symptoms you want to pay particular attention to include:
Lumps. You may feel a lump or bump while showering or getting dressed or during a regular self-exam. These lumps are often the result of fibroadenomas or a combination of fibrosis and cysts, sometimes called fibrocystic changes. The lump maybe painful, but not always. A new, tender lump that comes with skin redness or a fever could be the result of a breast infection. Non-cancerous lumps generally have smooth edges and move slightly when you push them. It’s best to have all lumps checked by a doctor, nurse or other health care professional.
Skin thickening or redness. This could be an indication of a particular type of cancer known as inflammatory breast cancer. But it could also be the result of an infection known as mastitis, which commonly occurs during breast feeding. Even if you think it’s the result of an infection, it’s best to follow up with your health care professional.
Pain. It is common to have cyclical pain throughout the month. You should be concerned if there is a sudden pain that is not related to the menstrual cycle.
Nipple secretion. While this can be alarming, as with other issues, it is likely due to a benign condition. The discharge may be clear, yellow or green. It may be due to hormonal fluctuations, but it should be checked out, especially if it occurs in only one breast or if there is a hint of blood.
Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, the American Cancer Society recommends that women over 40 get a mammogram every year.