Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

October is widely recognised now as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when a swathe of pink, confection-coloured branding enters the market. It is a good thing we have this month, although of course, anyone dealing with breast cancer does so throughout the year. 

The purpose of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to raise awareness - the more of us who are aware of the symptoms and who feel able to talk about them, the more likely diagnosis can happen early. However, sometimes breast cancer really isn't that obvious and we're incredibly mindful that if you don't catch your breast cancer early it’s important you know it’s not in any way your fault for not knowing or not being aware. 

We also want to turn our attention this month to the things that can support individual wellbeing during this time, and how we at Jennifer Young, in the wellness industry, and loved ones can hold the proverbial hand of anyone who has had a breast cancer diagnosis. We want to help provide the little things that make life a bit more comfortable while you go through treatment and beyond, and help you to live life after a breast cancer diagnosis. 

Over the course of the month we will share information relating to symptoms, caring for skin during breast cancer treatment, gifts that make a difference to the side effects of cancer treatment and the experiences of those within our community who have already been on or are currently on this journey.

This week we are starting with a review of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, both in general and as experienced by those we work with.

A thoughtful gift for someone having chemo
Breast Cancer Chemo Care Collection

Commonly reported symptoms of breast cancer 

Different people find that there are different things that first alert them to the presence of breast cancer, depending on where it is and what type they have. The most widely reported symptoms include one or more of the following, as reported by the American Cancer Society:

• Swelling of all or part of a breast 

• Skin dimpling 

• Breast or nipple pain

• Nipple retraction 

• Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened

• Nipple discharge 

• Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone

These are corroborated by the NHS.

A thoughtful gift for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer
Balancing Breast Cancer Care Package

Secondary breast cancer 

While it's important to know and understand the symptoms of primary breast cancer, one of the areas that often gets overlooked in Breast Cancer Awareness Month is secondary breast cancer and its symptoms. 

If you're diagnosed with secondary breast cancer it means that it has spread to another part of the body. The most common areas that breast cancer spreads to are the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, brain, or bones and at this stage it is incurable. It is also referred to as advanced or metastatic cancer.

There are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK and that for around 5% of women breast cancer has already spread by the time it is diagnosed. 

The symptoms of secondary breast cancer are not quite the same as primary breast cancer, and are broadly characterised as follows by Cancer Research UK:

• Feeling tired

• Low energy levels

• Feeling under the weather

• Having less appetite

• Unexplained weight loss

How you experience symptoms depends on where it has spread to, in which case there are more specific signs. ABCDiagnosis has a very helpful infographic that details the red flags for the five main areas that secondary breast cancer can appear. You can find it HERE.

Nicky from @secondary.sisters was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2018 following IVF treatment. She said: "I found a lump, I had some pulling, some nipple discharge, quite a lot of pain."



Addressing the top three concerns people undergoing treatment for breast cancer
Breast Cancer Body Care Package

Listen to your body

One of the most important things that comes up time and again is listening to your body. Sometimes signs of cancer can be quite subtle, but if you feel something isn't right then you are always within your rights to seek help and, if necessary, ask for a second opinion.

Helen Chand, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had breast implants, said:

"I was diagnosed with Stage 1, Grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in February 2019, yet In May 2017 I felt a tiny pea sized lump in the same area. I was sent for an ultrasound by my GP. Between the ultrasound clinic and my GP they established that it was a ripple in my implant as they were old and due for replacement. I walked away quite satisfied with this and, from that moment, I just got used to the “ripple” getting a little larger, wishing I had a spare few thousand dollars for an upgrade!

That was until one cold evening in January 2019. I was outside and found myself hugging my chest, my hand fell across my left breast, just under my armpit and suddenly there was quite a bulging lump. I went back to my GP and was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 days later. I should have listened to my body more or sought a second opinion in 2017. My collarbone was sore by 2018 and I hadn't slept on that side for months. All along, thinking that I only needed a new implant. Hindsight is a wonderful thing."


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