Breast cancer symptoms vary widely — from lumps to swelling to skin changes — and many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all.
According to the American Cancer Society, any of the following unusual changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:
- swelling of all or part of the breast
- skin irritation or dimpling
- breast pain
- nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk
- a lump in the underarm area
These changes also can be signs of less serious conditions, such as an infection or a cyst. Although breast cancer symptoms vary widely, many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all.
In some cases, a lump may be too small for you to feel or to cause any unusual changes you can notice on your own. Often, an abnormal area turns up on a screening mammogram (X-ray of the breast), which leads to additional testing. In other cases, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel.
A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But sometimes cancers can be tender, soft, and rounded. Performing a monthly breast self-exam is the best way of noticing any changes in your breasts.
And it’s important to get any breast changes checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. If you’re older than 40 or have a high risk of developing breast cancer, you should also have an annual mammogram and a physical exam. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of successful treatment.