The good news is a vast majority of adults—93%—recognized that the presence of a lump is a symptom of breast cancer. The bad news: fewer than half of those surveyed by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC–James) recognize other common symptoms of the disease, a concerning finding since most breast cancers do not present with a lump that can be detected by human touch. Further, this best-known symptom is often indicative of a fast-growing or late-stage cancer that is more difficult to treat.
“Screening mammography is our No. 1 defense in detecting and addressing breast cancers at their earliest, most treatable stages, but it is also very important for people to be familiar with the look and feel of their own breast tissue so that sometimes subtle changes can be evaluated quickly to give us the best chance at early detection,” says Ashley Pariser, MD, a breast medical oncologist and director of breast cancer survivorship services at the OSUCCC–James.
This knowledge gap indicates that more education is needed for people to better understand these lesser-known symptoms that can help provide for earlier detection. Pariser noted that it’s important for people to feel empowered by knowledge of these symptoms, what is normal, breast changes that can occur in as a result of aging and childbirth and which changes could be red flags.
“It is important that people feel safe to address these concerns in a timely way with their doctor,” notes Pariser. “We have made great strides in detecting breast cancers in far earlier, more treatable stages.”
Other notable symptoms of breast cancer include:
- retracted, inverted or downward-pointing nipple
- breast puckering (an indentation that appears when you raise your arms)
- loss of feeling in part of the breast
- pitting/thickening of the skin on the breast
- nipple discharge
The survey showed that fewer than one-third (31%) of survey respondents knew that a retracted, inverted or downward pointing nipple is a breast cancer symptom, only 39% knew breast puckering is symptom. Other symptoms were better recognized but were still known by less than half of respondents: 41% knew that loss of feeling in the breast is a symptom, 45% were knowledgeable about pitting/thickening of breast skin, and just over half (51%) knew that nipple discharge should prompt a doctor visit.
The survey also noted there is also confusion about current breast screening guidelines, with 44% of women under the age of 30 unsure about appropriate screening. The American College of Radiology and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend begin screening at age 40 for people of average risk.
“The best way for us to find breast cancer early is for women to present as soon as they notice a change, ideally even before they see a change,” notes Pariser. “So that’s why we recommend screening mammograms for those who qualify if we want to find breast cancer early.”