Breast cancer symptoms

Perhaps the most recognized symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue. While many women go to the doctor after finding a lump, every woman should also be aware of other changes to the breast or nipple.

With the different types of breast cancer come a variety of related symptoms. For example, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which forms in the milk ducts, may cause a distinct breast lump that you can feel. Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which forms in milk-producing glands, may cause a thickening in the breast.

Early warning signs of breast cancer

Symptoms of breast tumors vary from person to person. Some common, early warning signs of breast cancer include:

  • Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
  • An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
  • Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • General pain in/on any part of the breast
  • Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast

Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are:

  • Irritated or itchy breasts
  • Change in breast color
  • Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
  • Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
  • Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
  • A breast lump or thickening
  • Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)

It’s important to remember that other, benign conditions may have caused these changes. For example, changes to the skin texture on the breast may be caused by a skin condition like eczema, and swollen lymph nodes may be caused by an infection in the breast or another, unrelated illness. Seeing a doctor for an evaluation will help you determine whether something you notice is cause for concern.

Invasive breast cancer 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
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • The nipple or breast skin appears red, scaly, or thickened
  • Nipple discharge
  • A lump or swelling in the underarm lymph nodes

Ductal carcinoma symptoms

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) does not cause any symptoms. Rarely, a woman may feel a lump in the breast or have nipple discharge. However, most cases of DCIS are detected with a mammogram.

Lobular carcinoma symptoms

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) does not cause symptoms and cannot be seen with a mammogram. This condition is usually found when a doctor is doing a breast biopsy for another reason, such as to investigate an unrelated breast lump. If a person has LCIS, the breast cells will appear abnormal under a microscope.

Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms

Unlike other breast cancers, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) rarely causes breast lumps and may not appear on a mammogram. Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Red, swollen, itchy breast that is tender to the touch
  • The surface of the breast may take on a ridged or pitted appearance, similar to an orange peel (often called peau d’orange)
  • Heaviness, burning, or aching in one breast
  • One breast is visibly larger than the other
  • Inverted nipple (facing inward)
  • No mass is felt with a breast self-exam
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm and/or above the collarbone
  • Symptoms unresolved after a course of antibiotics

Unlike other breast cancers, inflammatory breast cancer usually does not cause a distinct lump in the breast. Therefore, a breast self-exam, clinical breast exam, or even a mammogram may not detect inflammatory breast cancer. Ultrasounds may also miss inflammatory breast cancer. However, the changes to the surface of the breast caused by inflammatory breast cancer can be seen with the naked eye.

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can develop rapidly, and the disease can progress quickly. Any sudden changes in the texture or appearance of the breast should be reported to your doctor immediately.

For women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, redness, swelling, itchiness and soreness are often signs of a breast infection such as mastitis, which is treatable with antibiotics. If you are not pregnant or nursing and you develop these symptoms, your doctor should test for inflammatory breast cancer.

Metastatic breast cancer symptoms

Metastatic breast cancer symptoms depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread and its stage. Sometimes, metastatic disease may not cause any symptoms.

  • If the breast or chest wall is affected, symptoms may include pain, nipple discharge, or a lump or thickening in the breast or underarm.
  • If the bones are affected, symptoms may include pain, fractures, constipation or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels.
  • If tumors form in the lungs, symptoms may include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, coughing, chest wall pain or extreme fatigue.
  • If the liver is affected, symptoms may include nausea, extreme fatigue, increased abdominal girth, swelling of the feet and hands due to fluid collection and yellowing or itchy skin.
  • If breast cancer spreads to the brain or spinal cord and forms tumors, symptoms may include pain, confusion, memory loss, headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty with speech, difficulty with movement or seizures.

Papillary carcinoma symptoms

Although papillary carcinoma may not be present, a routine mammogram may detect its development. For those who do experience symptoms related to this type of cancer, the following may be common:

Mass: Papillary carcinoma is most often detected as a cyst or lump of about 2 cm to 3 cm in size that may be felt with the hand during a breast self-exam.

Nipple discharge: About 50 percent of papillary carcinomas occur beneath the nipple, resulting in bloody nipple discharge.

Triple-negative breast cancer symptoms

Although triple-negative breast cancer does not look different from other breast cancer, it has several unique characteristics, including:

Receptor status: Tests that detect receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2 will be negative, which means hormone therapy, a traditional breast cancer treatment, is not effective. Instead, triple-negative breast cancer treatment options will include chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation.

More aggressive: A greater tendency to spread and recur after treatment compared to other breast cancer types. This risk decreases after the first few years following therapy.

Cell type and grade: Triple-negative breast cancer cells tend to be “basal-like,” meaning that they resemble the basal cells lining the breast ducts. The cells may also be higher grade, which means that they no longer resemble normal, healthy cells.

Male breast cancer symptoms

Male breast cancer symptoms can be similar to those experienced by women and may include:

  • Lumps in the breast, usually painless
  • Thickening of the breast
  • Changes to the nipple or breast skin, such as dimpling, puckering or redness
  • Discharge of fluid from the nipples

Next topic: What are the types of breast cancer?

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Breast pain can be a symptom of cancer. If you have any symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.

Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.

Some warning signs of breast cancer are—

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.

Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.

If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.

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 Institute’s Breast Changes and Conditions.External

What Do Lumps in My Breast Mean?

Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast, including cancer. But most breast lumps are caused by other medical conditions. The two most common causes of breast lumps are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Fibrocystic condition causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, tender, and sore. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast.

Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer, From Women Who Experienced Them

“Women know their bodies best. If you see or feel something different, something is wrong. You must be your own advocate. I knew something was wrong and I knew it was getting worse, but the doctors were all telling me not to worry, so I ignored my gut feeling. Mine took 11 months to diagnose, which allowed it to spread to my bones and liver. Today, my cancer is incurable.”

—Jennifer Cordts, stay-at-home mom, Dallas

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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 Pink’s 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 can’t stress it enough, listen to your body!”

—Erin Scheithe, DC Education Ambassador for Bright Pink, Washington, D.C.

I found a lump

“I first felt my lump when I was getting dressed. I waited several weeks until after my next period to see if there were any changes in size. When that wasn’t the case, I scheduled my annual mammogram. Given that my mom passed away from cancer in 1997, I had my first mammogram at age 35. The radiologist compared my mammograms and noticed a change in my right breast. The biopsy revealed the presence of pre-cancerous cells (stage zero). She ordered an MRI, which showed other areas of concern. After more biopsies, I was diagnosed with triple positive stage 1 invasive breast cancer at the age of 37. With chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous surgeries, I’ve been cancer-free for six years.”

—Stef Woods, Professorial Lecturer at American University, Washington, D.C.

RELATED: The 5 Breast Cancer Stages, Explained

My dog found my cancer

“I had just been to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up and breast exam, and got the ‘all okay.’ Soon after, my little dog Zoe climbed up on me and started pawing at a specific part of my breast. Little alarms went off in my head, telling me to pay attention. It was like a slow-motion movie. I pushed her off and that’s when I found a little round BB-sized lump. After a mammogram that didn’t show anything, and a sonogram that found the lump, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It’s so important to listen to the messages our bodies are telling us.”

—Christine Egan, author of The Healthy Girl’s Guide to Breast Cancer, Bayport, New York

I felt something like a hard, round piece of cheese

“After a shower one night, I did a self-breast check. I felt something like a round, hard piece of cheese about the size of a quarter. I had just had a mammogram six months earlier. I felt healthy, biked all the time, and wouldn’t have guessed that something wasn’t right in my body. But I didn’t wait to see what was going on. I went to the doctor immediately and was referred for an ultrasound and needle biopsy. I was diagnosed at age 46 with stage 3 breast cancer, and soon after had a mastectomy. I would never recommend to anyone to ‘wait and see.’ While it was a very scary realization, you’re only saving yourself if you take care of it aggressively.”

—Sandy Hanshaw, founder of Bike for Boobs, San Diego

RELATED: You Found a Lump in Your Breast. Now What?

I felt a pea on my ribs

“I had done monthly self-breast exams since I was in my early 20s. I felt a tiny hard little bump the size of a small pea. I could only feel it because it was over my rib at the bottom of my left breast. In retrospect, my bra may have hurt a little in that area before I found the lump. I have had many lumps, bumps, and cysts biopsied, but this pea was definitely different. I scheduled my annual mammogram along with a biopsy. I received the breast cancer diagnosis within a week, just shy of my 55th birthday. Turns out, there was another in the other breast that didn’t show up on a mammogram. I also discovered I was a BRCA 1 mutation carrier. I needed aggressive chemo followed by a double mastectomy. Had I not done the exam that evening, everything would be quite different.”

—Cynthia Bailey, MD, president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology, Inc., Sebastopol, California

My nipple inverted

“Back in October 2015, I felt something lump-ish and hard in my right breast. I went for a mammogram and received a clean bill of health. Sadly, I was happy to accept the diagnosis I wanted to hear. By the spring, I knew something was wrong. My breast actually shrank and the nipple inverted, a classic sign of breast cancer, though I didn’t know it. When that happened, I knew I had to do something. My primary care physician examined me and told me I needed to go for a test. I remember clearly pulling out my datebook and suggesting next week. She sternly shook her head and said I had to go to that afternoon. I was diagnosed as early stage 3 cancer. The big lesson I learned was, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I tend to keep my issues to myself, but cancer is not something you can solve on your own. Talk to professionals and avoid the internet! Get real advice.”

—Gerri Willis, Komen Greater New York City Race for the Cure Team Captain and FOX Business Network anchor, New York, New York

Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is an important part of breast health. Although having regular screening tests for breast cancer is important, mammograms do not find every breast cancer. This means it’s also important for you to be aware of changes in your breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. They can even be painful. For this reason, it’s important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by an experienced health care professional.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)

Although any of these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, if you have them, they should be reported to a health care professional so the cause can be found.

Remember that knowing what to look for does not take the place of having regular mammograms and other screening tests. Screening tests can help find breast cancer early, before any symptoms appear. Finding breast cancer early gives you a better chance of successful treatment.

Breast Pain

  • Overview
    • What Is Cancer?
    • Causes of Breast Cancer
    • Breast Cancer Facts
    • Breast Tumors
    • Breast Anatomy
    • Male Breast Cancer
    • Growth of Cancer
    • Risk Factors
    • Breast Cancer Genetics
      • Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer
      • Other Breast Cancer Genes
      • BRCA: The Breast Cancer Gene
      • What To Do If You’ve Tested Positive
  • Early Detection
    • Symptoms and Signs
    • Breast Pain
    • Breast Cyst
    • Breast Self-Exam
    • Clinical Breast Exam
    • Mammogram
    • Healthy Habits
  • Diagnosis
    • Diagnostic Mammogram
    • Ultrasound
    • MRI
    • Biopsy
    • Lab Tests
    • Waiting For Results
  • Stages
    • Breast Cancer Stages
    • Stages 0 & 1
    • Stage 2 (II) And Stage 2A (IIA)
    • Stage 3 (III) A, B, And C
    • Stage 4 (IV)
  • Types
    • Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)
    • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
    • Triple Negative Breast Cancer
    • Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
    • Metastatic Breast Cancer
    • Breast Cancer During Pregnancy
    • Other Types
  • Treatment
    • Choosing Your Doctor
    • Standard Treatment vs. Clinical Trials
    • Metastatic Breast Cancer Trial Search
    • Surgery
      • Lymph Node Removal & Lymphedema
      • Breast Reconstruction
      • Lumpectomy
      • Mastectomy
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation Therapy
    • Hormone Therapy
    • Targeted Therapy
    • Nutrition & Physical Activity
    • Follow-Up Care
  • Myths
    • Myth: Drinking milk (or dairy) causes breast cancer
    • Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer
    • Myth: Men do not get breast cancer; it affects women only
    • Myth: A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread
    • Myth: If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop breast cancer, too
    • Myth: Breast cancer is contagious
    • Myth: If the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 is detected in your DNA, you will definitely develop breast cancer
    • Myth: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer
  • FAQs
    • Can physical activity reduce the risk of breast cancer?
    • Can a healthy diet help to prevent breast cancer?
    • Does smoking cause breast cancer?
    • Can drinking alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer?
    • How often should I do a breast self exam (BSE)?
    • Does a family history of breast cancer put someone at a higher risk?
    • Are mammograms painful?
    • How does menstrual and reproductive history affect breast cancer risks?
    • How often should I go to my doctor for a check-up?
    • What kind of impact does stress have on breast cancer?
    • What celebrities have or have had breast cancer?
    • Where can I find a breast cancer support group?
    • Can breastfeeding reduce the risk of breast cancer?
  • Resources
    • Breast Health Guides
      • Healthy Living & Personal Risk Guide
      • 3 Steps to Early Detection Guide
      • Mammogram 101 eBook
      • Know the Symptoms Guide
      • Abnormal Mammogram eBook
      • What Every Woman Needs to Know eBook
      • Breast Health Guide
      • Bra Fit Guide
      • Weekly Healthy Living Tips
      • What to Say to a Cancer Patient eBook
      • Breast Cancer Recurrence eBook
      • Dense Breasts Q&A Guide

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

  • Apple devices
  • Kobo
  • Sony Reader
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Android and PC

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
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Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

Sign of breast cancer

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