Breast cancer affects millions of women across the globe every year. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, affecting 2.1 million women each year. 

“One of the worrisome and scary things about breast cancer is that it can happen silently,” said Michal Whiton, clinical director of the Breast Institute at Skagit Regional Health that operates Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington. “Early diagnosis is what can save lives.”

She added most cancers that are discovered early can be cured.

Women can be proactive in the fight against breast cancer by learning to identify early warning signs of the disease. The nonprofit breast cancer advocacy organization Susan G. Komen notes that the warning signs for breast cancer are not the same for all women, but the most common signs include a change in the look or feel of the breast or a change in the look or feel of the nipple. A discharge from the nipple is another common warning sign of breast cancer.

Physical changes in the breast can vary, but Susan G. Komen advises women who notice these changes to bring them to the attention of their physicians immediately:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside of the breast or underarm area.
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast.
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast.
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin.

Women with breast cancer also may notice physical changes in their nipples, including:

  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast.

It’s important that women recognize that physical changes in their breasts are not necessarily indicative of breast cancer. In fact, the American Breast Cancer Foundation notes that not all lumps in the breast cause cancer and that many such lumps are benign. Fibroadenomas and intraductal papillomas are examples of benign lumps, though it’s important to note that even benign conditions such as these may put women at greater risk of developing breast cancer.

Whiton said it’s good for women to have general awareness of their breasts and note what is normal and when something isn’t normal and when they are having symptoms that are unusual. If that happens, women should contact their primary care provider and make an appointment. 

Susan G. Komen notes that breast tissue naturally has a lumpy texture. If lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and it feels like your other breast, then it’s likely that this is just the normal texture of your breasts. However, women concerned by a lump or lumpy texture are urged to discuss those concerns with their physicians immediately.

Breast cancer is a formidable foe. But women who arm themselves with knowledge of the disease, including its early warning signs, are in better position to overcome it.  

For more information about the Breast Institute at Skagit Regional Health, go to

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