Even though many women first notice changes in the appearance of their breasts, some of them may first encounter changes in the armpit. Such changes are usually in a form of lumps that can be easily palpated, especially if they are located more superficially.
Clinical Characteristics of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer typically develops in a form of a lump in the affected breast. It varies in size and can be located more superficially or deeper inside the breast. The tumor may in different stages spread and its first pathway leads to axillary lymph nodes. This is why in certain number of women there is enlargement of axillary lymph nodes which can be also easily palpated. Sometimes the tumor in the breast is not large enough to be palpated during self-examination and it has already gave metastases to the axillary lymph nodes which have grown sufficiently and can be easily felt during the examination of this particular area.
Still, it is essential to mention more common symptoms and signs of breast cancer. Breast cancer develops in a form of painless lump. It grows and eventually may cause changes to the affected breast. For example, there may be breast discharge of different characteristics (most commonly bloody discharge), nipple inversion and changes of the skin of the affected breast (particularly in inflammatory breast cancer). In some women the tumor is discovered accidentally during routine or screening examinations such as ultrasound or mammography.
What about Armpit Lumps
Any armpit lump requires proper evaluation. There are many reasons why lymph nodes of the armpits may enlarge and breast cancer is only one of them.
Axillary lymph node enlargement may be associated with different infections or develop as a side effect of vaccination. Furthermore, in some cases there may be lipomas (benign tumors made of fat tissue), cysts and similar structures in the armpit and they may mimic lymph node enlargement. It is essential to mention other types of cancers which may also, apart from the breast cancer, affect the armpit and cause lymph node enlargement. They include lymphomas (both Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin lymphomas) as well as other tumors which originate and have spread from the nearby tissues and organs.
Because there are many different causes of enlargement of lymph nodes in the armpits, the doctor will opt for different exams and tests in order to identify the exact cause. Biopsy is, however, the most valuable tool for confirming or excluding lymphatic enlargement of the armpit caused by cancer (breast cancer or any other malignant tumor).