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January 2021

Can You Recognize the Signs of Breast Cancer?

Mammograms help find breast cancer early, before it causes obvious symptoms. They’re an invaluable tool for women’s health. Yet not every breast cancer is discovered this way.

As a woman, you probably hear a lot about mammograms. But it’s also crucial to be familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. That way, you’re more likely to notice if a change occurs. Most changes turn out to be something other than cancer. Yet others are indeed signs of breast cancer—and the earlier it’s found, the better the chance for successful treatment.

What to watch for

Contact your health care provider about:

  • A new mass or lump in your breast. This is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Many cancerous breast lumps feel hard and have irregular edges. But some feel soft or round instead. Tell your provider about any new mass in your breast.

  • Swelling of part or all of your breast. This may occur even without a lump.

  • Skin changes in your breast or nipple. The skin may be red, dry, itchy, flaking, or thickened. Or it may be dimpled, sometimes resembling the texture of an orange peel.

  • Breast or nipple pain. Many cancerous lumps in the breast are painless. But some breast cancers cause tenderness or pain.

  • Nipple retraction. This refers to a nipple that turns inward rather than outward.

  • Nipple discharge. This is fluid other than breast milk that comes from the nipple.

  • Swollen lymph nodes. Breast cancer sometimes spreads to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone, causing swelling there. This may be noticeable even before there’s a breast lump big enough to feel.

These symptoms can be caused by things other than cancer, too. For example, normal breast tissue sometimes feels lumpy, and certain medications and infections can cause nipple discharge. But to be on the safe side, always tell your provider promptly about any breast change.

In addition, if you’re due for a mammogram, be sure to schedule it—even if you don’t have any symptoms. The one-two punch of getting screened with a mammogram and being alert for symptoms is a powerful way to fight breast cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
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