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The lesser-known signs of breast cancer

Early detection of breast cancer offers the greatest chances of survival. One in eight Australian women will develop breast cancer throughout their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Woman with upper back pain

Therefore, it’s vital for all women to understand that, often, breast cancer can be detected before a lump develops.

According to statistics published by the Australian Government, breast cancer continues to be on the increase, despite a wide variety of public health initiatives to try to reduce breast cancer rates among Australian women. Early detection of this disease saves lives. Many women experience a wide range of symptoms prior to discovering they have a breast lump. If you’re familiar with the lesser-known signs of breast cancer, you, or someone you know, can get the necessary treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.


Upper back pain

One of the first signs of breast cancer is pain in the upper back, shoulder or neck that isn’t relieved by stretching, massage or physical therapy, and is something every woman should be aware of. Often, these symptoms are experienced before any others, including breast discomfort or changes. This pain occurs because most breast cancers occur deep in the breast tissue, close to the chest wall, which is why breast cancers can often spread to the ribs and spine. Unfortunately, many women put this discomfort down to sleeping the wrong way, muscle spasm, or even stress. Therefore, persistent upper back pain should always be checked out by your doctor and a mammogram should be carried out.

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Nipple changes

Just under the nipple, within the milk ducts, is one of the most common places for a breast lump to occur. For this reason, an early sign of breast cancer is changes to the nipple. A nipple that has become indented, flattened or inverted is one of the lesser-known signs of possible breast cancer. Other nipple changes include dry, scaly skin around the nipple, decreased sensitivity of the nipple or a discharge from the nipple.


Itchy or red breasts

A breast that is itchy, red or has a rash is a symptom that many women can mistake for a skin problem. These symptoms are particularly common with women who have inflammatory breast cancer, a fast-growing and aggressive form of cancer that has a lower rate of survival. The skin can also look dimpled, like cellulite and also feel warm to touch.

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Change in breast size or shape

Not all breast lumps are able to be felt on self-examination. Often lumps can be located deep in the breast tissue, unable to be felt until they have grown significantly in size. Instead of feeling any lump, some women first notice a change in their breast shape or size, often one breast may begin to hang lower, sit out to the side or look bigger than the other one. Because this early warning sign is one of appearance more than feeling, it’s important for women to look at their breasts in a mirror regularly for any changes to breast size, shape or position.


Pain in the armpit

Because breast cancer can quickly spread to the lymph nodes in your armpit, many women experience pain under their arm prior to feeling any breast lumps or noticing changes in their breast. The armpit may feel tender in a particular area, the lymph nodes may be swollen or there may be a hard lump present. If you experience tenderness or feel a lump under your armpit that persists and you are otherwise feeling well, be sure to have your doctor check it out.

More about breast care

Reduce your risk of breast cancer
Is your bra doing you more harm than good?
Angelina Jolie’s aunt dies of breast cancer

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