Signs & Symptoms

Earlier detection of breast cancer can mean receiving treatment when the cancer is smaller and less likely to have spread. Therefore, early detection of breast cancer signs with a regular mammogram screening or self-exam typically results in a better outcome than waiting for symptoms to appear. 

The Most Recognized Sign of Breast Cancer: The Lump 

The most noteworthy breast cancer sign is the presence of an abnormal lump or mass in the breast. About 83% of women get a diagnosis because of a lump or mass discovered during self-examination. Breast lumps that are diagnosed as cancer are typically:

  • Painless
  • Hard or firm to the touch 
  • Uneven in shape around the edges

If you find a lump, there is a chance that it’s not cancer. Schedule an appointment soon with your physician for an exam and imagery if you find something. 

Being in tune with the usual shape and feel of your breasts is important so you can get a doctor's input right away if you notice something unusual – cancerous or not. However, don’t overlook the importance of regular mammograms beginning at age 40. This can find small lumps that you can’t feel yet or are deeper in the breast tissue.

Beyond the Lump: Other Symptoms of Breast Cancer to Know 

The "lump" gets a lot of attention because it’s what many people find whether through self-examination or a mammogram. However, other signs and symptoms of breast cancer are possible such as :

  • Abnormal discharge from nipples (other than breast milk), including bloody discharge 
  • Noticeable changes in the overall shape or size of the breast
  • Thickening of some parts of the breast
  • Turning in (inversion) of the nipple 
  • Pain in the nipple area or pain in the breast
  • Patches or flaky or red skin around the nipple area or on the breast 
  • Dimpled breast tissue or skin 

In addition to these symptoms and lumps, watch out for new lumps under the arm or in the armpit area. A few other lesser-known signs of breast cancer can include back pain, unexplained weight loss, and excessive breast-area itching. All these symptoms can have other medical causes or can be related to other health conditions. So, even if you have a symptom or two, it may not be cancer. See your doctor for a proper evaluation.

Breast Cancer or Normal Breast Changes - How Do You Know the Difference?

The majority of breast changes turn out to be completely normal. Numerous things can affect size, firmness, and sensitivities with your breasts. Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy, menstruation, and even due to medications or weight changes can all bring about breast changes. Aging can cause changes in breast tissue as well; firmer tissue may separate and lead to changes in how the breasts feel and look 

You can also develop lumps due to what is referred to as "fibrocystic" changes in the breasts. If you look closely, you may discover a series of lumps instead of just one. Fibrocystic changes typically occur monthly around the time of menstruation. Again, talk to your doctor about what you’re seeing so they can decide if there is any testing that should be done.

When to Speak to Your Doctor About Breast Changes 

Be sure to keep up on your annual gynecologic exams which typically include a breast exam and a discussion about mammograms and what’s right for you.