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Dear doctor, what are the early signs of breast cancer?

04 October 2018

I am 35 years old and worried about breast cancer. What are the early signs for me to look for and how often should I examine my breasts?

Although breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women in the UK, it is particularly common over the age of 50 years. The earlier breast cancer is detected the more chance that it will be curable, so you need to be aware of the symptoms and signs and seek help early. Don’t ignore changes to your breast.

The usual first sign is a painless lump in the breast and although anyone with a lump in their breast should see their GP, most lumps are not cancer. The other signs that may indicate breast cancer include:

  • changes in the size or shape of a breast  ̶  almost always just one side
  • dimpling or thickening of some of the skin on a part of a breast. This is often described as the skin resembling an orange peel
  • the nipple turning in or changing shape
  • discharge occurring from a nipple (which may be bloodstained)
  • abnormal movement of the breast on tensing the chest wall muscles or raising the arms above the head
  • lumps in the armpit

Don’t forget that a woman’s breast is made up of a series of lumps, so when you examine your own breast, use the flat of your hand and not the tips of your finger. Women’s breasts are lumpier just before their period, so if you notice a lump then re-examine them again after your period is over. 

You should examine your breasts at least once a month. Don’t forget the most important lifestyle risks for breast cancer are obesity, excess alcohol and smoking, so if you need an excuse to change your lifestyle, this is certainly a good one.

Find out more about Dr Mark Coombe, private GP practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.

The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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