Breast Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

The majority of women with breast cancer do not have any signs or symptoms when diagnosed. However, it is possible for women with the disease to experience breast changes or symptoms. Many times, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer.

The signs and symptoms that should be discussed with a doctor include:

  • A lump that feels like a hard knot or a thickening in the breast or under the arm. It is important to feel the same area in the other breast to make sure the change is not a part of healthy breast tissue in that area.

  • Change in the size or shape of the breast

  • Nipple discharge that occurs suddenly, is bloody, or occurs in only 1 breast

  • Physical changes, such as a nipple turned inward or a sore in the nipple area

  • Skin irritation or changes, such as puckering, dimpling, scaliness, or new creases

  • Warm, red, swollen breasts with or without a rash with dimpling resembling the skin of an orange, called “peau d'orange”

  • Pain in the breast, particularly breast pain that does not go away. Pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer, but it should be reported to a doctor.

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. You doctor will ask how long and how often you have been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, supportive care, or palliative care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.