Breast Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

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Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2021

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

Many people with breast cancer do not have any body changes (signs) or symptoms when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like by taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem.

However, some people do have symptoms or signs when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer. If a person develops one or more of the following symptoms or signs, they should discuss them with a doctor. Many times, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • 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 located in the nipple area

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

  • A warm, red, swollen breast 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, including those listed above as well as other concerning changes that are not, please talk with your doctor. Your 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. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative care" or "supportive care." It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. 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. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.