Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. Although it is detected most commonly in the breast itself, breast cancer can also appear outside of the breast as well. Here is a list of breast cancer symptom.
Most often the tumour is in the middle of the breast, in its glandular area. Most females usually feel it when having a bath or if she’s following an early detection program of breast cancer. Usually, she will discover it before it causes symptoms. Most often, breast cancer appears in the upper outer quadrant of the breast.
When the tumour is located near the nipple, breast cancer can produce two different symptoms. The first symptom is a nipple deformity. The tumour may make the nipple twist and change its form, and therefore appears asymmetric with respect to the other breast’s nipple. The tumour can also pull the nipple inward the breast, causing its invagination. The second symptom is the appearance of a bloody discharge from the nipple. When there is blood coming from the nipple, it is very important to consult a doctor as soon as possible. Something else may also be the cause.
When the tumour is located very close to the skin, as it progressively grows, it can produce TWO different symptoms:
- Appears when the tumour reaches the skin, breaking it and producing an ulcer that doesn’t heal. Normal skin bacteria will then start infecting it. This results in having a bad odour.
- Appears without breaking the skin. The tumour compresses the lymphatic drainage that goes below the skin, which make fluid accumulate. Orange peel appears with a bunch of little holes in the skin, caused by the cellulite beneath.
When the tumour grows inward, it can infiltrate the pectoral muscle which is deep in the breast. In order to observe this, the woman has to lean forward, making the breasts dangling. The breast where the tumour has infiltrated the pectoral muscle, will be moving less and woman can note the asymmetry between the affected breast and unaffected breast who hangs freely and seems unattached.
When the tumour is already out of the breast, it might be because it has followed two different paths; the lymphatic system or blood.
When breast cancer chooses lymph vessels to travel to other parts of the body, it can follow two paths. The first one, the most common, is to go to the axilla. There are many axillary nodes that can collect tumour cells. These cells accumulate there and make the size of the axillary nodes get bigger. Eventually they will become palpable. If many tumour cells accumulate in the armpit and affect many lymph nodes, they can disrupt the collection of lymphatic fluid from the arm which will gradually start to swell.
The second path, the least frequent is the internal mammary chain which is located in the thoracic cavity, just below the breastbone. Although cancer cells accumulate in these nodes, as they are situated inside the chest, we have no clinical way to detect these enlarged nodes. The only way of discovering them is by performing a scanner.
A less frequent travel site of tumour cells through the lymphatic vessels is the supraclavicular area. We would feel a lump in the hole, situated above the first rib in the lower neck. If it’s large enough, it could compress the brachial plexus nerves causing strange sensations in the arm, loss of sensation in the fingers, or even cramping or feeling a throbbing pain. Nevertheless, this is rare.
When cancer reaches blood, breaking a nearby blood vessel, tumour cells travel throughout the body and can get to places where due to their special conditions, they like to live. In case of breast cancer, the most common sites where metastases appear are:
- Bones – when tumour cells grow in the bone and metastases are very big, they can break the layer that covers bone. This layer, the periosteum has great pain sensitivity. When it breaks pain will appear. This cancer growth compromises bone strength, and especially if the bone has to bear weight, it could break. A special case of bone metastases occurs when vertebrae are affected. It can cause back pain. When vertebrae breaks, it can cause neurological symptoms known as medullary compression syndrome.
- Lungs – When tumour cells get to the lungs, they usually create separate cell groups. Sometime later, multiple metastases will appear. If they cancel enough lung function, shortness of breath will (a symptom called “dyspnoea”) appear. However instead of doing so they touch the breathing tube (known as bronchus), they will irritate it causing a very troublesome dry cough. Another instance also can be if it is placed near a blood vessel, they may break it, pouring a little blood with cough (Hemoptysis)
- Brain – When groups of tumour cells get to live within the brain, metastases appear, increasingly large. As they push neighbouring neurons, these neurons begin to operate in an altered way. Therefore, TWO types of symptoms may occur:
- Irritative symptoms: Neurons fire uncontrolled flashes. The woman can have seizures.
- Deficiency symptoms: Neurons stop functioning and their work is left undone. The patient can have loss of mobility, loss of vision, loss of sensibility, and so on.
In both cases, if there is too much tumour in the head, the patient will start having headaches, gradually growing up in intensity and frequency.
- Liver – When breast cancer cells get to the liver, they begin to grow wildly and begin to crush liver cells. If the liver cells break, their contents, transaminases, will access the blood thus increasing their blood levels (can be detected in a blood test). If they compress small bile conduct inside the liver, bile may accumulate and the patient’s skin gets a yellow tint (phenomenon called jaundice).
At the end of the Day…
If you get any of the symptoms stated, please get yourself checked and take care of yourself.