Breast Changes And Conditions
As you await follow-up test results, remember that most breast changes are not cancer.
You may have just received an abnormal mammogram result, or perhaps you or your health care provider found a breast lump or other breast change. Keep in mind that breast changes are very common, and most are not cancer. This page can help you learn about symptoms during your lifetime that are not cancer as well as follow-up tests used to diagnose breast conditions and treatments for specific breast conditions.
‘my Breast Looked A Little Pink’
In the shower one day, I noticed a pale pinkness on my breast just below my nipple area, which looked more like a mild sunburn than a rash. I knew something was off. I had my ob-gyn take a look, and he said he wasnt concerned at all because it was barely noticeable. He suggested my bra fit too snugly, and I needed to go shopping for new bras. So I did just that.
“Over time, that pink area hardened slightly and was sore to the touch. My ob-gyn again said he wasnt concerned. Eventually the pain increased behind my breast in my back. My ob-gyn said that breast cancer does not hurt, so I didnt need to worry about it. He ordered a mammogram to put my mind at ease. The mammogram and all other tests came back normal.
“Weeks went by and my lower back began to hurt. Eventually, after my GP suggested I had arthritis and I went to physical therapy. I went to see a breast specialist. He told me I had mastitis and gave me antibiotics. That didnt help. Back at the breast surgeon, he sent a picture of my breast to the top surgeon who ordered a diagnostic mammogram, which includes a sonogram and a biopsy. I was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer in my breast, bones, and liver.
Jennifer Cordts, stay-at-home mom, Dallas
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Emotional Stages Of Breast Cancer
Doru Paul, MD, is triple board-certified in medical oncology, hematology, and internal medicine. He is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and attending physician in the Department of Hematology and Oncology at the New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
People often experience a wide range of emotions with breast cancer, and these can change with different stages in the journey. What might you or a loved one expect at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, and on to survivorship? Itâs important to note that every person is different and experiences breast cancer in their own unique way. That said, it can be comforting to know youâre not alone with some of the feelings you have feelings that may have left you feeling isolated and alone. We will highlight some of the emotions and concerns that are common at three important times in your journey.
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A Lump In Your Breast
A lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Lumps are often hard and painless, although some are painful. However, not all lumps are cancer. Benign breast conditions that can also cause lumps.
Still, its important to have your doctor check out any new lump or mass right away. If it does turn out to be cancer, the sooner its diagnosed the better.
Does A Benign Breast Condition Mean That I Have A Higher Risk Of Getting Breast Cancer
Benign breast conditions rarely increase your risk of breast cancer. Some women have biopsies that show a condition called hyperplasia . This condition increases your risk only slightly.
When the biopsy shows hyperplasia and abnormal cells, which is a condition called atypical hyperplasia, your risk of breast cancer increases somewhat more. Atypical hyperplasia occurs in about 5% of benign breast biopsies.
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Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer
The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.
The most common signs are:
- A change in the look or feel of the breast OR
- A change in the look or feel of the nipple OR
- Nipple discharge
If you have any of the warning signs described below, see a health care provider .
If you dont have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend.
If thats not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital. If you have insurance, your insurance company may also have a list of providers in your area.
Learn more about finding a health care provider.
In most cases, these changes are not cancer.
One example is breast pain. Pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to get it checked.
If the change turns out to be breast cancer, its best to find it at an early stage, when the chances of survival are highest.
What Causes Breast Lumps And Pain
Many possible causes exist for pain or tenderness in one of your breasts or in both breasts. Most often the pain can be attributed to harmless causes such as puberty or pregnancy. It can also be a recurrent problem for women with cyclical pain associated with the menstrual cycle. Although cancer is a major concern for most women, it is rarely the cause of isolated breast pain.
Some causes of breast pain are:
- Fibrocystic breast disease
- Breast cancer
If you have a lump in your breast, your doctor will check for the following:
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How To Check Your Breasts
Theres no special way to check your breasts and you do not need any training.
Checking your breasts is as easy as TLC:
- Touch your breasts: can you feel anything new or unusual?
- Look for changes: does anything look different to you?
- Check any new or unusual changes with a GP
Everyone will have their own way of touching and looking for changes.
Get used to checking regularly and be aware of anything thats new or different for you.
Check your whole breast area, including up to your collarbone and armpits.
Wounds That Do Not Heal
If you have a cut or other injury to the surface of your skin and it is taking a long time to heal, or you notice little progress, it is a sign that cancer may be growing in your body. Your immune system has to prioritize defense zones, and cancer takes priority for all available bodily resources way before your minor wound.
Take excellent care to keep the wound clean, and consider getting blood screening done just to be cautious. If you dont see improvement after five days, call your doctor for guidance.
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What Are Some General Signs And Symptoms Of Cancer
Most signs and symptoms are not caused by cancer but can be caused by other things. If you have any signs and symptoms that don’t go away or get worse, you should see a doctor to find out whats causing them. If cancer is not the cause, a doctor can help figure out what the cause is and treat it, if needed.
For instance, lymph nodes are part of the bodys immune system and help capture harmful substances in the body. Normal lymph nodes are tiny and can be hard to find. But when theres infection, inflammation, or cancer, the nodes can get larger. Those near the bodys surface can get big enough to feel with your fingers, and some can even be seen as swelling or a lump under the skin. One reason lymph nodes may swell is if cancer gets trapped there. So, if you have unusual swelling or a lump, you should see your doctor to figure out whats going on.
Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms that may be caused by cancer. However, any of these can be caused by other problems as well.
Sometimes, its possible to find cancer before you have symptoms. The American Cancer Society and other health groups recommend cancer-related check-ups and certain tests for people even though they have no symptoms. This helps find certain cancers early. You can find more information on early detection at the American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer.
Early Warning Signs Of Breast Cancer
Common symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump in your breast or underarm that doesnât go away. This is often the first symptom of breast cancer. Your doctor can usually see a lump on a mammogram long before you can see or feel it.
- Swelling in your armpit or near your collarbone. This could mean breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes in that area. Swelling may start before you feel a lump, so let your doctor know if you notice it.
- Pain and tenderness, although lumps donât usually hurt. Some may cause a prickly feeling.
- A flat or indented area on your breast. This could happen because of a tumor that you canât see or feel.
- Breast changes such as a difference in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of your breast.
- Changes in your nipple, like one that:
- Pulls inward
- Develops sores
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Inflammatory Breast Cancer: How To Spot It And What To Do About It
Many things can cause skin changes on the breasts, and its normally no big deal. Rarely, it could signal a more serious condition called inflammatory breast cancer . Keep reading to learn about common causes of breast skin changes diagnosis and treatment for IBC what to watch out for and how to protect your health.
What Does The Equipment Look Like
You will be taken to an examination room that houses the PET scanner, which has a hole in the middle and looks like a large doughnut. Within this machine are multiple rings of detectors that record the emission of energy from the radioactive substance in your body and permit an image of your body to be obtained. While lying on a cushioned examination table, you will be moved into the hole of the machine. The images are displayed on the monitor of a nearby computer, which is similar in appearance to the personal computer you may have in your home.
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Can Cancer Form In Other Parts Of The Breast
Cancers can also form in other parts of the breast, but these types of cancer are less common. These can include:
- Angiosarcomas. This type of cancer begins in the cells that make up the lining of blood or lymph vessels. These cancers can start in breast tissue or breast skin. They are rare.
- Inflammatory breast cancer. This type of cancer is rare and different from other types of breast cancer. It is caused by obstructive cancer cells in the skins lymph vessels.
- Paget disease of the breast, also known as Paget disease of the nipple. This cancer affects the skin of the nipple and areola .
- Phyllodes tumors. These are rare, and most of these masses are not cancer. However, some are cancerous. These tumors begin in the breasts connective tissue, which is called the stroma.
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.
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What Is A Normal Breast
No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. For more information, see the National Cancer Institutes Breast Changes and Conditions.external icon
What Do Breast Lumps Feel Like
The feel of a breast lump depends on its cause, location, and growth. They can vary greatly from painful, hard, and immobile to soft, painless, and easily moveable.
According to BreastCancer.org, lumps are most likely to be cancerous if they do not cause pain, are hard, unevenly shaped, and immobile.
Fibroadenoma lumps tend to be painless, easily movable, smooth, rounded and can disappear on their own. Breast cysts are smooth but firm. Breast abscesses and mastitis usually cause painful, swollen lumps, and are often accompanied by a fever and or redness around the affected skin.
Most early breast cancers are diagnosed on screening mammograms before a lump can be felt. Mammograms are an effective method for detecting breast cancer. However, mammograms do not detect breast cancer 100 percent of the time.
The most difficult part of early detection is that changes and symptoms might or might not occur. That is why regular screening is so important.
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What Does A Lump In Your Breast Feel Like
A new lump is one of the most common signs of breast cancer. Lumps that are breast cancers can vary. For example, they may be painless or painful. Lumps can also be a sign of a benign breast condition. However, if you have found a new lump or breast change, it is important to see your doctor so that it can be checked by a health professional.
Other Types Of Breast Cancer
Other less common types of breast cancer include invasive lobular breast cancer, which develops in the cells that line the milk-producing lobules, inflammatory breast cancer and Paget’s disease of the breast.
It’s possible for breast cancer to spread to other parts of the body, usually through the lymph nodes or the bloodstream. If this happens, it’s known as “secondary” or “metastatic” breast cancer.
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Which Breast Lumps Should Women Worry About
Breast lumps are frightening, but fairly common. And while you already know that a lump could potentially signal breast cancer, you’ve probably also heard that most lumps are noncancerous, or benign.
So how can you tell if a breast lump needs to be checked out by a doctor?
“All breast lumps need to be evaluated by a physician, regardless of your age or where in your breast you feel the lump,” says Dr. Joshi. “More often than not, breast lumps are harmless. But, any lump could potentially be breast cancer, and it’s impossible for a woman to determine whether her lump is cancerous or benign just by feeling it.”
That being said, Dr. Joshi says that there are some features that make a lump particularly concerning, including:
- Changes in the skin over the lump
- Nipple changes, including enlargement or bloody discharge
- Changes in the size of the lump
“Additionally, having a family history of breast cancer makes it more likely that a lump could be cancerous,” warns Dr. Joshi.
Factors That Affect Growth Rate
A number of studies have identified other factors that affect the rate of growth of a breast cancer. These include:
- The type of cancer: Inflammatory breast cancer tends to grow much more quickly than other types of breast cancer.
- Age at diagnosis: Breast cancers in young women tend to grow more rapidly than breast cancers in older women. They also have a higher tumor grade.
- Menopausal state: Breast tumors often grow more rapidly in women before menopause than they do in postmenopausal women. This is likely due to estrogen in the body.
- Receptor status: Triple negative cancers, in general, grow more rapidly than estrogen receptor-positive tumors. Triple positive tumors also grow more rapidly.
- Estrogen treatment: Women who used hormone replacement therapy after menopause had, in general, more rapid growth rate of breast tumors.
- Ki-67 index: This measures a specific tumor marker. A higher index means a faster doubling time.
- Tumor grade: This describes what the cells look like. A higher tumor grade indicates a faster doubling time.
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Signs Of Breast Cancer That Aren’t A Lump
The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.
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: