Breast cancer symptoms: This viral lemon photo is crucial to early diagnosis

A viral photo of 12 lemons is providing a graphic look at what breast cancer symptoms can look like in order to promote early diagnosis, which is key in successful treatment.

Although Johns Hopkins Medical Center reports that 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, a breast mass is not the sole way the disease can present itself.

There are 12 common symptoms associated with breast cancer, and the Know Your Lemons Campaign has created a useful chart illustrating each one as it appears on a different lemon.

Those symptoms — all of which may warrant a phone call to your doctor — include a hard lump, a thick patch of breast skin, a dimple or indentation, crust on the nipple, a red or warm spot, unexpected nipple discharge, breast sores, a bump on the surface of the breast, a newly inverted nipple, an enlarged or growing vein, a drastic change in size to one breast and a condition called “orange peel” skin that makes the skin of the breast look like the dimpled skin of an orange.

Credit: Know Your Lemons

The handy graphic — which was designed by Dr. Corrine Ellsworth Beaumont, the founder and CEO of Know Your Lemons — went viral in 2017 after breast cancer survivor Erin Smith Chieze shared it on her Facebook and revealed that it actually helped her diagnose her own cancer.

“In December of 2015 when I saw an indentation that looked like one of those pictures, I instantly knew I had breast cancer,” she wrote at the time. “I tried to feel for a tumor, but my tumor was non-palpable. I was diagnosed with breast cancer five days later and with stage 4 the following month.”

In her post, Chieze went on to criticize the typical pink ribbons and hearts that get plastered across social media throughout October — which is Breast Cancer Awareness month — and called on her friends to instead share real information like the lemon photo, which may have saved her life.

“I knew what breast cancer was. I knew all about self exams, but a picture of what to look for keyed me into knowing I had a terminal disease,” she wrote. “We need to give real information—not cute hearts. If you truly want to help people with cancer, or those who will get cancer, share photos like this one.”

When breast cancer is detected early and in the localized stage (i.e. the cancer has not yet spread outside of the breast), the 5-year relative survival rate is 99 percent, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. That rate decreases the longer the cancer goes without detection, especially if it spreads to other areas of the body. In other words, early detection is one of the most important factors in successfully treating the disease.

Lindsey Finkelstein, a 26-year-old breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 22, was one of the women fortunate enough to catch her cancer early when it was still classified as Stage 0, Grade 3, meaning it was growing fast but hadn’t spread outside of her breast yet.

Although 22 is typically considered young for a breast cancer patient, it’s certainly not impossible for those in their early 20s to develop the disease.

If your current age is 20, your probability of developing invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years is .06 percent, or 1 in 1,732, according to BreastCancer.org. This means that 1 in 1,732 women in this age group can expect to develop breast cancer.

Following her shocking diagnosis and successful treatment, Finkelstein spoke out to inform others that it’s never too early to start learning about the symptoms of breast cancer and paying attention to your breast health.

“It could happen to anyone. It could happen to anyone at any point in their life,” she previously told In The Know.

If you found this article useful, check out this board-certified gynecologist’s recommendations about what to expect ahead of your first visit.

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