I’ve been prompted to write about the signs of breast cancer thanks to a recent media campaign running in the UK. Supported by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, one of the UK’s leading charities and information/support groups, the campaign is called TLC – oh so beautifully simple and easy to remember. TLC stands for TOUCH, LOOK, CHECK. This is based on the fact that most cases of breast cancer are the result of women contacting their doctor after noticing changes in their breasts. And, as there is a greater chance of treating and beating breast cancer the earlier it is diagnosed, the initiative to be able to report changes to your doctor comes from regularly checking yourself. I cannot stress enough how you can only know if there are changes by being breast aware. It’s all very well knowing the signs of breast cancer, but how do you know if you have the symptoms or if your breasts have always been that way unless you regularly examine them? Back to TLC, this is the moniker given to remind us of the basics of a breast self-examination.
TOUCH – Your breasts all over. Get to know them. Once you get used to the regular feel of your breasts, you should be able to spot anything unusual or irregular.
LOOK – Visually examine your breasts for outward signs of changes in texture, shape or color
CHECK – Report any abnormalities or fears to your doctor as soon as possible.
Nobody else knows your breasts like you. You are best placed to identify any changes, but what are the signs of breast cancer you should be looking for?
The TLC Campaign tells us there are 5 signs of breast cancer to watch for. The first of them is lumps. When you first start examining your breasts, they will feel lumpy and bumpy. This is normal and is the natural breast tissue. By getting used to the regular consistency, you should be able to feel a growth or lump should it occur. Lumpy areas may also be painful.
2. Skin Texture and Color
If you notice changes in skin texture, such as puckering or dimpling, it is worth checking out with your doctor. This can be hard to recognize as a symptom on its own, especially if you have put on or lost weight or you’re naturally ageing, but this just brings home even more why you should examine your breasts regularly. Color changes should also be watched for – inflamed areas will have a reddish tinge.
3. Nipple Appearance
One of the most notable signs of breast cancer is a change in the appearance of a nipple. An inverted nipple may pop out, or a sticky out nipple may appear to be sinking inwards. A nipple may also change the way it responds to stimulation. If your nipples normally react to touch quickly and one seems to be exhibiting different behavior, it is worth getting it checked out, especially if you think you might be showing other signs of breast cancer.
One or both nipples may have a discharge.This is a telling sign and should be brought up to your doctor straight away. It's especially important if you're exhibiting any other warning signs of breast cancer.
5. Rash or Crusting
Look out for flaky or crusty skin on and/or around the nipple. Unexplained rashes should also be checked.
6. Information Point 1
Even though the Breakthrough Breast Cancer site is for the UK, anyone can access some of the excellent material they have produced to support the TLC campaign: breakthrough.org.uk. There are check sheets you can download and there’s also an app, though I am not not sure if it can be accessed internationally. The short video on how to check your breasts is especially helpful.
7. Information Point 2
I have found some US sources about breast cancer that will provide lots of useful information as well as statistics which will again underline the necessity of you regularly examining and looking for signs of breast cancer: cancer.gov; abcf.org; breastcancer.org. For readers who aren’t in the US or UK, look for your national cancer charities and organizations – they will have websites.
There is no time like the present to start examining your breasts on a regular basis. You’re never too young or too old. The signs of breast cancer are even scarier if you aren’t informed or ready to deal with them. Do you already examine your breasts or are you convinced to start?