Most women know to get a breast lump checked out. But there are lesser well known signs of breast cancer too, as these women found out. If you see or feel any unusual changes, even between mammograms, show your doctor. For advice, call our specialist breast care nurse on 0800BCNurse.
“I didn’t realise soreness and redness could mean anything like breast cancer” – Nicki, Christchurch, Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma
Nicki, diagnosed in 2012 at age 47, had no family history of breast cancer. She’d experienced pain in one breast on and off for a year. When the pain grew worse and she noticed some redness on her breast, she went to the doctor. Her GP suggested a cyst, but when Nicki called BreastScreen Aotearoa to postpone her regular mammogram because of the pain, an alert nurse followed up and made sure Nicki was referred to the hospital breast clinic. Mammogram and ultrasound revealed a 2cm lump. “I was really surprised that the cancer had grown that big between mammograms,” Nicki says.
“I never had a lump, so I didn’t worry about my other symptoms until it was nearly too late” – Tui , Hastings, Stage 4 HER2+ breast cancer
Tui experienced breast pain and nipple discharge for nearly a year before she was diagnosed at age 40, in 2007. “My life was very busy, I was a rep on the road, I was busy with my kids – you don’t focus on yourself,” she says. Specialists gave Tui a short life expectancy, due to the size and stage of her 12cm tumour, but thanks to the drug Herceptin she has defied expectations and has lived to see her first grandchildren. “I wouldn’t have waited so long to see the doctor if I’d known what my symptoms meant,” she said.
“I thought the pain didn’t have anything to do with anything” – Liz , Christchurch, Grade 3 HER2+ breast cancer
Liz had pain in her armpit on and off – she thought it might be due to a wrong bra size. In July 2012, the pain spread to her left breast, and it also felt hot. When she saw an episode of the TV series Embarrassing Bodies, which talked about the symptoms of breast cancer, including pain, she checked her breasts, and found a lump. For the single mum whose daughter was starting school, the hardest part was waiting for the test results. She was diagnosed in September 2012, aged 41. Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and the doctors told her there’s a 50% chance it has spread elsewhere. After her lumpectomy, Liz underwent chemotherapy to kill any of those spreading cells. She’s now on Herceptin and Tamoxifen. “If I’d known the pain in my armpit could be breast cancer, I’d have gone to the doctor sooner.”
“Any sign of differences, get it checked” – Lisa, Christchurch, DCIS
Lisa went to her GP about a cyst, and while she was there, mentioned she’d experienced an occasional inverted nipple, and had a discharge as well. Her doctor promptly sent her for a mammogram. Lisa was diagnosed at age 39, in 2010. She had a unilateral mastectomy due to the amount of DCIS in her breast. A year later, a mammogram revealed suspicious cells in the other breast, and she underwent another mastectomy. “If I hadn’t had the cyst, I never would have gone to the doctor about my other symptoms,” she says.
Show your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms :
• A new lump or thickening in the breast or armpit area
• A change in breast shape or size
• A pain in the breast that is unusual
• A change in the skin of the breast, areola or nipple, e.g. colour, dimpling, puckering or reddening
• Any change in the nipple, e.g. a turned in nipple or a discharge that occurs without squeezing.
Your doctor should examine your breasts, ask questions about your concerns and find out about any relevant medical and family history. This will help your doctor understand what is normal for you, or what needs checking again at a later date. If your doctor is concerned, they may suggest further testing.
The Foundation recommends all women follow three ‘Priorities in Breast Awareness’
1. Have a regular screening mammogram from 40
2. Know your breasts from 20
3. Talk to your family doctor about any family history of breast cancer