Breast Cancer Symptoms: What You Need To Know
Finding breast cancer early usually makes it easier to treat. Along with getting regular screening mammograms, being aware of how your breasts look and feel is an important part of early detection. Some breast cancer signs are detected best by mammogram. Other signs may be more easily seen as changes in how the breasts look or feel.
It is important to know that not all changes in the breasts are cancer. Benign breast conditions are much more common than breast cancer. But it is important to let your health care team know about any changes in your breast so they can be looked into.
Below are some common breast symptoms that should be checked right away.
If Cancer Comes Back In The Same Breast
If the breast cancer comes back in the same breast it’s called local recurrence. The cancer might be picked up at one of your follow up scans or appointments. Or you might notice your breast or scar looks or feels different.
Symptoms of local recurrence can include:
- a small pink or red lump called a nodule on the breast or scar
- change in shape or size of the breast
- a swelling in your arm or hand on the side of your breast surgery
- changes in the shape or position of the nipple
- redness or a rash on the skin on or around the breast area
- a lump or thickening in the breast
Let your doctor know as soon as you can if you notice any changes. You usually have tests to check if the cancer has come back.
Signs Of Breast Cancer That Aren’t A Lump
The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
This page was updated on January 31, 2022.
For decades, the medical community and the media have waged an effective awareness campaign about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, educating the public about the importance of diligently monitoring their breasts for lumps. And the tactic has worked. Early detection has contributed to a 38 percent decline in breast cancer deaths in women from 1992 to 2018, according to the National Cancer Institute. While thats an important step forward, many other abnormalities that may also indicate breast cancer are lesser known and discussed. Some, then, may be led to assume that no lump and no tumor mean no cancer, but that may be a dangerous conclusion to draw.
When most people think about breast cancer symptoms, they think of breast lumps. But doctors say visual changes may be especially key in helping detect breast cancer early. You may notice some of these changes just by changing the way you look at your reflection in the mirror, says Cynthia Lynch, MD, Medical Oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® , Phoenix.
In this article, well discuss the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, including:
Don’t Miss: Estrogen Responsive Breast Cancer
Visible Changes In The Nipple Or Skin
After puberty, your nipples remain fairly consistent in shape, size and color. Generally, there shouldnt be any sudden changes with your nipples or skin. But if there are any visible changes, such as a red, itchy or scaly rash inversion or sucking-in of the nipple dimpling, puckering or other changes in the skin on or around the nipple, you should see your doctor.
As breast cancer progresses, it grows and pushes other things out of the way, Dr. Duncan says. This can cause changes in the breast, skin and nipple as the breasts internal structure changes.
Or Your Nipples Are Leaking
Is there anything more alarming than having your breasts start squirting liquid when there’s no baby involved? “Its normal to have some leakage during pregnancy while breastfeeding, and up to a year after weaning your baby, but if you notice any discharge any other time it needs to be evaluated by a doctor,” says Dr. Patt.
Random dischargeespecially if it’s red or green or has an odormight mean you have a problem, including cancer of the breast or the pituitary gland, Dr. Patt explains.
You May Like: Chemotherapy For Brca2 (breast Cancer)
How Will Breast Reconstruction Affect My Life
Breast reconstruction may help you to feel better about your body: you may feel more “normal,” “balanced,” and feminine. It may also help you to be able to wear more kinds of clothes with convenience and comfort.Some women are afraid that if the breast cancer returns, it will be harder to detect the tumor through a reconstructed breast than through a mastectomy scar. However, there is no need to fear difficulties with cancer detection. Current evidence indicates that it is no more difficult to find and treat cancer through a reconstructed breast than it is through a mastectomy scar.If you are thinking about breast reconstruction and are interested in breastfeeding your children, you should know that you cannot breastfeed from a reconstructed breast. The parts of the breast that deliver milk are the most likely parts to develop cancer and are therefore removed during the mastectomy.Having breast reconstruction may cause you some inconvenience during the period after the surgery. It will take time to recover, and there may be additional treatments or follow-up surgeries. Depending on which kind of breast reconstruction you choose, you may need up to six months or a year to fully return to your normal life.Only you can decide whether the mental and physical benefits of having a new breast are worth the costs of having the surgery.
You Notice Dimply Scaly Patchy Or Inflamed Skin
You know your boobs and all their little quirks so if you notice any changes to their normal appearance, pay attention, says Debra Patt, MD, OB-GYN, and breast cancer expert with Texas Oncology, a practice in the US Oncology Network.
“Any unusual thickening, redness, rash, dimpling, or puckering of your breast skin, or around the nipple, should be checked out by your doctor,” she explains.
Don’t Miss: Is Stage 3 Breast Cancer Curable
Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer symptoms vary widely from lumps to swelling to skin changes and many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all.
In some cases, a lump may be too small for you to feel or to cause any unusual changes you can notice on your own. Often, an abnormal area turns up on a screening mammogram , which leads to further testing.
In other cases, however, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But sometimes cancers can be tender, soft, and rounded.
a lump in the underarm area
These changes also can be signs of less serious conditions that are not cancerous, such as an infection or a cyst. Again, its important to get any breast changes checked out promptly by a doctor.
Its smart to perform a monthly breast self-exam so you are familiar with your breasts and have a better chance of noticing any changes. And you should visit your doctor if you experience breast changes.
If you’re over 40 or at a high risk of breast cancer, you should also have an annual mammogram and physical exam by a doctor. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of successful treatment.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle.
- A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea.
- A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast.
- A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple.
- A change in the look or feel of the skin on the breast or nipple .
- Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple.
- An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.
- A marble-like hardened area under the skin.
These changes may be found when performing monthly breast self-exams. By performing breast self-exams, you can become familiar with the normal monthly changes in your breasts.
Breast self-examination should be performed at the same time each month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends. If you have stopped menstruating, perform the exam on the same day of each month.
Recommended Reading: Stage 3 Of Breast Cancer
You Notice Changes That Aren’t Related To Your Boobs At All
Back pain, neck pain, and unexplained weight loss were all listed as other breast cancer symptoms that led women to seek medical care and ultimately get diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the study published in Cancer Epidemiology.
That’s because breast cancer can spread before it’s caught, causing symptoms in body parts that have nothing to do with your boobs. It’s not possible to identify every possible sign of breast cancer so when it comes to early detection, you are your own best weapon, says Dr. Denduluri. Overall, any persistent, noticeable change should be checked by a doctor.
‘it Felt Like There Was A Marble In My Breast’
I had fibrous breasts, so even on a good day, my breasts felt like a bag of frozen peas. I had been receiving Bright Pinks Breast Health reminder texts to check my breasts, so I was pretty familiar with how my breasts felt. However one day I felt a lump in my left breast near my nipple, which seemed to be the size of a marble or gumball. This lump felt different. It was hard, but had a bit of a give to it.
“From the moment I felt the lump, I knew I had breast cancer. I went in that day for an appointment with my gynecologist, who ordered a mammogram for later that afternoon. After that, I had a core needle biopsy, but the tests all came back negative. I never felt relieved or satisfied with that result.
“At a later breast check, I felt the lump had grown, so I insisted my gynecologist help me find a surgeon to remove the lump. It was removed and I was told it was stage 2, aggressive triple negative breast cancer. I also discovered I was BRCA-1 positive, meaning I had the breast cancer gene. I cant stress it enough, listen to your body!
Erin Scheithe, DC Education Ambassador for Bright Pink, Washington, D.C.
Recommended Reading: Stage 4 Invasive Breast Cancer
How Breast Cancer Pain May Feel
While many types of breast pain are not cancerous, pain in only one breast may be cause for calling your doctor. Benign breast pain is often on both sides.
Breast cancer pain can be persistent and very specific, usually hurting in just one spot. It is important to remember that breast cancer can be present in your breast before it causes pain. If you have other symptoms of breast cancer, such as nipple retraction , sudden swelling of your breast, or sudden skin changes, consult your healthcare provider for a clinical breast exam.
Does Breast Pain Increase The Risk Of Breast Cancer
Though its uncommon, there are some painful breast conditions which may raise your risk. Both radial scars and multiple or complex fibroadenomas increase your risk of breast cancer Many breast conditions which cause pain confer only a minimally increased risk of breast cancer, such as ductal ectasia, fat necrosis, a breast abscess, simple fibroadenomas, and others.
Also Check: Stage 2 Breast Cancer Recurrence
You May Like: Does Taking Estrogen Cause Cancer
Invasive Breast Cancer Symptoms
Most breast cancers start in the ducts, or the tubes that carry milk to the nipple, or in the lobules, the little clusters of sacs where breast milk is made. Invasive breast cancer refers to breast cancer that spreads from the original site to other areas of the breast, the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body. In these cancers that form in the ducts or lobules, invasive ductal carcinoma or invasive lobular carcinoma , the cancer spreads from the ducts or lobules to other tissue. Depending on the stage, you may notice symptoms.
Invasive breast cancer symptoms may include:
- A lump or mass in the breast
- Swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is felt
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- A lump or swelling in the underarm lymph nodes
Diagnosing Cancer And Back Pain
A doctor will consider your symptoms and medical history when diagnosing potential lower back pain causes. Its important to include if you have a history of cancer or a family history of cancer.
Because cancer is a rare cause of lower back pain in those who dont already have cancer, a doctor may recommend other treatments before doing a full cancer work-up.
However, if pain persists after physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications, a doctor may order imaging studies and blood testing. These tests can help identify if there are potential cancer markers that are causing the lower back pain.
Recommended Reading: Breast Cancer Life Expectancy Without Treatment
Changes In Nipple Appearance Or Sensitivity
One of the most common locations for a breast cancer tumor is just beneath the nipple, and it may cause a change in the appearance and feel of the nipple itself. Some women may also experience a decrease in nipple sensitivity.
Nipple discharge that starts suddenly should also be taken on a serious note, as it a warning sign of breast cancer. Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or any other health condition that requires immediate treatment. Therefore, if you have these changes, go and meet the doctor immediately.
Nipple change is a direct give away for men with breast cancer
Surgery For Breast Cancer
Most women with breast cancer have some type of surgery. Common types of breast surgery are lumpectomy, mastectomy, and taking out lymph nodes from the underarm. Women who have a mastectomy may also decide to have the breast shape rebuilt, either at the same time or later on.
Choosing between lumpectomy and mastectomy
Lumpectomy only takes out the lump and a little bit around it. It lets you keep most of your breast. The downside is that youll most likely need radiation treatment after surgery. But some women who have a mastectomy also need radiation afterward.
When choosing between a lumpectomy and mastectomy, be sure to get all the facts. At first you may think that a mastectomy is the best way to get it all out. Some women tend to choose mastectomy because of this. But in most cases, lumpectomy is just as good as mastectomy. Talk to your cancer care team. Learn as much as you can to make the right choice for you.
If you have a mastectomy, you may want to think about having your breast shape rebuilt. This is called breast reconstruction. Its not done to treat the cancer. Its done to build a breast shape that looks a lot like your natural breast.
If youre going to have a mastectomy and are thinking about having reconstruction, you should talk to a plastic surgeon before the mastectomy is done. Your breast can be rebuilt at the same time the mastectomy is done or later on.
Side effects of surgery
Symptoms And Diagnosis Of Metastatic Breast Cancer
The most common parts of the body where breast cancer tends to spread are the bones, lungs, brain, and liver. But metastatic breast cancer can affect other parts of the body, as well.
Metastatic breast cancer symptoms can be very different depending on the cancers location, but may include:
back, bone, or joint pain that does not go away
difficulty urinating , which can be a sign that the cancer is pinching nerves in your back
numbness or weakness anywhere in your body
shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
abdominal bloating, pain, or tenderness
constant nausea, vomiting, or weight loss
biopsy of any suspicious area
a tap, removal of fluid from the area with symptoms to check for cancer cells a pleural tap removes fluid between the lung and chest wall a spinal tap removes fluid from around the spinal cord and a tap of fluid in the abdomen removes fluid in the abdominal cavity
These tests may also be used if you have no history of breast cancer and your doctor is having trouble determining the cause of your symptoms.
A biopsy may be done to determine these factors that can influence your treatment, which will be listed in your pathology report. Learn more about Understanding Your Pathology Report.
Cancer Beyond The Breast Area
A locally advanced recurrence means that the breast cancer has spread beyond the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm . This includes areas near to or around the breast but has not spread to other parts of the body.
A locally advanced cancer might come back in one or more of the following:
- the chest wall
- lymph nodes under the breastbone or between the ribs
- the nodes above the collarbone
- lymph nodes around the neck
Symptoms can include, changes in the breast, and swelling in the lymph nodes above and below the collarbone, the neck, and around the breast bone.
The tests you might have are usually the same as for checking for a local recurrence.
Do speak to your nurse or doctor if you notice any of these changes.
You May Like: How To Cure Breast Cancer