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Breast Cancer Symptoms

Updated on April 28, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Some women go to their doctor after they notice symptoms of breast cancer during or between regular monthly self-exams. Catching breast cancer early improves the chances of treating it effectively and increases the survival rate. If you notice changes in your breasts, go to your doctor immediately.

Breast cancer cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone. Diagnosis of breast cancer is based on the results of imaging scans and a pathology report for breast tissue collected during a biopsy.

Once cancer has been diagnosed and is being treated, you are far more likely to experience side effects of breast cancer treatments than symptoms of the cancer itself.

Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer

A healthy breast can look or feel different for many normal reasons. The menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, a poorly fitting bra, weight loss or gain, injury, overenthusiastic sexual play, and benign cysts can all change the way a breast looks or feels. However, the changes listed below can also be associated with breast cancer.

  • Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple
  • A lump in the breast or under the arm
  • Pain, tenderness, or thickened tissue in the breast or under the arm
  • Unexplained change in breast size or shape
  • Swelling or shrinking — especially on one side
  • Unusual warmth or darkening or reddening skin
  • Breasts that were symmetrical (the same on both sides) suddenly look different
  • Nipple tenderness
  • A change in breast skin texture such as dimpling, puckering, or larger pores (“orange peel skin”)
  • Red, scaly, or itchy skin on the nipple or areola (ring of darker skin around the nipple)
  • Ridges or pits in the skin of the breast or nipple
  • The nipple retracts (turns inward)

Condition Guide

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Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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