By Iolee Anagnostopoulou

Dear reader, I have a confession to make: I feel old. Ok, maybe not old, but certainly old-er. I recently turned 29 and realised this is the last year I’ll be enjoying the digit 2 as a prefix to my age. And it’s not the number that bothers me, but mostly the changes in my body as I approach the fourth decade of my life. I’ve noticed unusual hormonal levels, wrinkles, reduced endurance and general signs that I’m not as youthful any more. Let’s admit it, a 29-year old body doesn’t even recover from a hangover as fast as a 19-year old one! 

After a long period of denial, I finally came to terms with the fact that I won’t be getting any younger and that I need to start thinking actively about my personal wellbeing. We all know the recommended formula: Eat healthily, exercise daily, drink loads of water, reduce stress etc.

However, even if we do our best to stay fit, hale and hearty, we’ll never be immune to every illness. And while medicine has advanced enough to help us fight most diseases, some still pose a challenge to scientists, and such diagnoses can turn your whole life upside down. This is where the crucial role of prevention comes in.

 The silent killers of the 21st century are cancer and heart disease. Both are linked to poor lifestyle choices and ageing, exposing us to carcinogens and inevitable cell-damage over time. Breast cancer is the most prevalent type, with one in eight women facing this diagnosis in their lifetime. That’s why it is extremely important to remain vigilant to our breast health and be aware of alarming signs, so we can take immediate action at a treatable stage.  

Five Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

Although a mammogram is the best diagnostic tool for breast cancer, it’s not always accurate. Knowing how your breasts normally feel and look can help you can spot any tell-tale changes. Here are some things to look out for:

  1. Lumps – The most common symptom of breast cancer is a noticeable lump or mass in the breast. They can be hard or soft, round or edgelike, painful or painless. If you notice a newly formed lump or mass, get it checked by a professional as soon as possible.
  1. Nipple Retraction Or Discharge – Breast cancer can cause the cells behind the nipple to change, resulting in size alteration or inversion inward into the breast. It can also cause thick or thin nipple discharge, which can be clear, yellow, white, green or red in colour. Although both symptoms can be attributed to noncancerous reasons, such as ovulation, medication side effects or breast infections, it is advisable to have them checked by a doctor.  
  1.  Lymph Gland Changes Or DimplingLymph glands are oval-shaped collections of immune system tissue, which filter the lymph, a fluid containing cell wastes-namely cancer cells, viruses and bacteria. Breast cancer cells can spread to the armpit lymph gland area or clavicle. This can lead to swelling or small, firm/soft lumps as white blood cells are fighting the infection. Dimpling or pitted skin can also indicate a build-up of lymph fluid and can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and aggressive type. 
  1.  Skin Changes – Changes in the skin’s texture or colour around the breast area can be an early sign of cancer, mainly due to inflammation in the skin cells. Symptoms include:
  • Skin thickening
  • Dry, flaky skin around the nipple and areola
  • Itchiness
  • Discolouration–skin looks red, purple or bruised

Although such issues can signify unrelated conditions, like eczema or dermatitis, they may be symptoms of Paget’s disease, a rare form of breast cancer. 

  1. Breast Pain Or Swelling – Even though breast cancer is usually painless, changes in skin cells can result in pain, sensitivity and an overall feeling of discomfort in the area. It is described by most as a burning sensation. Swelling of the entire breast can also occur, without any distinctive lumps, increasing the affected breast’s size and causing the skin to feel tight. 

Prevention

Don’t panic if you notice any of the above abnormalities. Simply visit your doctor for close examination and evaluation of your symptoms. This might involve an ultrasound, mammogram or blood test to exclude the possibility of other causes unrelated to cancer.

With our lives being more dynamic and challenging than ever, it is essential that we stay proactive about our health and dedicate the right amount of time to our vitality. Remain cautious about your breast health and get an annual mammogram if you are over 40. Stay away from parabens, commonly linked to breast cancer, and apply those lifestyle changes you’ve been postponing for years. 

Staying healthy is hard. Being unhealthy is harder. Choose health!