According to the American Cancer Society, by the end of 2016, American women will be diagnosed with approximately 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer and approximately 40,450 women will die from breast cancer. The harsh reality is that breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women. About one in eight US women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.
Breast cancer awareness goes far beyond statistics. It’s about active prevention and being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in the hope that it will be caught early if it develops.
The following five warning signs of breast cancer are ones that many women tend to overlook, but recognizing them can be vital to saving your life.
- New mole/modification of an existing mole
Although moles are more commonly associated with a higher risk of skin cancer, they can also be associated with breast cancer. In one study, researchers followed 89,902 women between the ages of 40 and 65 and recorded their medical records for 18 years. At the beginning of the study, the number of moles of each woman was documented. During the study, 5,956 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers found that women with the most moles in the group had a 13 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than women without moles. If you notice a new mole or changes to an existing mole, contact your doctor.
- Constant cough or hoarseness in the throat
Cancer that starts in one area is known as primary cancer. If some cancer cells break away from the primary cancer and travel to another part of the body, they can form another tumor called a secondary cancer. Breast cancer can spread to the lungs and can be detected by a prolonged cough or hoarseness. Cancer spreads to the lungs in 60 to 70 percent of women with terminal breast cancer. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath and a dry cough.
- Changes in the bladder or intestines
Breast cancer can cause hormonal changes that dry out the urethra and make bladder control difficult. This is called incontinence, and common symptoms include leaking urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or exercise, a sudden and urgent need to urinate, and urination that takes longer than usual. If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.
Fatigue is a common symptom in breast cancer patients and survivors, but it often occurs before diagnosis. Fatigue caused by cancer is not relieved by sleep or rest. It is usually a very serious condition and is often accompanied by severe anxiety unrelated to exertion. Cancer-related fatigue is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain, sleep disturbances and depression. Researchers believed that this fatigue was caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the body that cause cancer.
- Unexplained back pain
Back pain is a common medical problem – so common that eight out of ten people will experience it at some point in their lives. Back pain can also be a sign of a breast tumor. Back pain associated with breast cancer can feel like pressure in the ribs and spine, or pain in the upper back that seems to come from the bones. It can also be a sign that breast cancer has spread to the spine.