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Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

Due to the increased use of mammography, most women are diagnosed at very early stages of breast cancer, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancer is found through mammography. The most common symptoms of breast cancer are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge. These are listed below:

   •  Lump, hard knot or thickening 
   •  Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening 
   •  Change in the size or shape of the breast 
   •  Dimpling or puckering of the skin 
   •  Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple 
   •  Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast 
   •  Nipple discharge that starts suddenly 
   •  New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away


Adapted from National Cancer Institute [25,26], American Cancer Society [27], and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [28].

If you have any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your health care provider right away. Although for most people these changes will turn out to be benign (not cancer), the only way to know for sure is to see your provider. For example, breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, if breast cancer is present, it is best to be diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is most treatable. 


Breast Lumps or Lumpiness
Many women may find that their breasts feel lumpy. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. There is also a great deal of individual variation. For some women, the lumpiness is more pronounced than for others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry. If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it is probably just normal breast tissue. Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast tissue (or the tissue of the other breast) or that feel like a change are a concern. When this type of lump is found, there is more risk that it may be breast cancer. Some benign breast conditions though (such as cysts and fibroadenomas) can cause similar changes. (Learn more about benign breast conditions.) See your health care provider right away if:

   •  You find a new lump or change that feels different from the rest of your breast. 
   •  You find a new lump or change that feels different from your other breast. 
   •  Feel something that is different from what you felt before.

If you are unsure whether you should have a lump checked, it is best to see your provider right away. Although a lump may be nothing to worry about, you will have the peace of mind that it has been checked. 

Nipple Discharge
Liquid leaking from your nipple (nipple discharge) can be troubling, but it is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body's natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed. However, if discharge occurs without squeezing the nipple, occurs in only one breast or has any blood in it or is clear (not milky), a more serious condition, such as breast cancer, may be present. Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or another condition that needs medical treatment. For these reasons, if you have any nipple discharge, you should see your health care provider.

Updated 05/14/10