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Breast cancer is more than just lumps

Breast cancer affects approximately one in eight women in their lifetime, and it’s estimated that 40,000 women die every year of breast cancer in the US. Today, breast cancer is becoming more and more treatable—especially when it is caught early. 

“When people think about early breast cancer symptoms, they usually think about finding lumps,” said Geisinger breast cancer surgeon Jacqueline Guerriero, DO. “Lumps are only part of the equation, though. There are more symptoms to watch out for, and finding them early can help stop the cancer from spreading throughout your body. While it’s important to go for regular check-ups and get mammograms, it’s equally important to self-examine monthly.”

Keep an eye out for these early warning signs of breast cancer; if you experience any of these, talk to your doctor immediately.

  1. Visible changes in the nipple or skin
    After puberty, your nipples remain fairly consistent in shape, size and color. Generally, there should not be any sudden changes with your nipples or skin. If there are any visible changes, such as a red, itchy or scaly rash; inversion or sucking-in of the nipple; dimpling, puckering or other changes in the skin on or around the nipple, you should speak to a doctor.

    “As breast cancer progresses, it grows and pushes other things out of the way. This can cause changes in the breast, skin and in the nipple as the breast’s internal structure changes,” said Dr. Guerriero. “Any changes, especially sudden, should be brought up to your doctor as soon as possible.”

  2. Swelling 
    Especially during menstruation, your breasts may become tender or swell. This is completely normal. However, if you notice that the tenderness and swelling is abnormal, discolored or lasts longer than a week, get in touch with your doctor.

    “If you have persistent swelling in your breasts, it’s a good idea to go see your doctor,” said Dr. Guerriero. “Swelling is your body’s version of an alarm to tell you that something is going wrong. In this case, the breast cancer could be irritating or blocking normal breast function, so it would cause it to swell. Lumps by themselves are usually not painful, but they can sometimes cause swelling that is.”

  3. Nipple discharge
    Discharge from the nipple, while not always a cause for immediate concern, should be monitored. If you notice sudden discharge coming from only one breast, take the time to look closely.

    Is the discharge bloody and not clear or milky? Does it happen even without the nipple being squeezed?

    “Discharge from the nipple isn’t an immediate cause for concern,” said Dr. Guerriero. “Discharge can be caused by a few different things, and it isn’t an extremely common symptom of breast cancer. Take a minute to look closely at the discharge. If it looks suspicious, talk to your physician.”

Jacqueline Guerriero, DO, is a breast cancer surgeon at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre and at Geisinger Mount Pocono. Please visit call 800-275-6401 to schedule an appointment.