Breast cancer symptoms
Perhaps the most recognized symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast tissue. While many women go to the doctor after finding a lump, every woman should also be aware of other changes to the breast or nipple.
With the different types of breast cancer come a variety of related symptoms. For example, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which forms in the milk ducts, may cause a distinct breast lump that you can feel. Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which forms in milk-producing glands, may cause a thickening in the breast.
Early warning signs of breast cancer
Symptoms of breast tumors vary from person to person. Some common, early warning signs of breast cancer include:
- Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
- An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
- Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- General pain in/on any part of the breast
- Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast
Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are:
- Irritated or itchy breasts
- Change in breast color
- Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
- Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
- Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
- A breast lump or thickening
- Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
It's important to remember that other, benign conditions may have caused these changes. For example, changes to the skin texture on the breast may be caused by a skin condition like eczema, and swollen lymph nodes may be caused by an infection in the breast or another, unrelated illness. Seeing a doctor for an evaluation will help you determine whether something you notice is cause for concern.
Invasive breast cancer symptoms
Invasive breast cancer symptoms may include:
- A lump or mass in the breast
- Swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is felt
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- The nipple or breast skin appears red, scaly, or thickened
- Nipple discharge
- A lump or swelling in the underarm lymph nodes
Ductal carcinoma symptoms
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) does not cause any symptoms. Rarely, a woman may feel a lump in the breast or have nipple discharge. However, most cases of DCIS are detected with a mammogram.
Lobular carcinoma symptoms
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) does not cause symptoms and cannot be seen with a mammogram. This condition is usually found when a doctor is doing a breast biopsy for another reason, such as to investigate an unrelated breast lump. If a person has LCIS, the breast cells will appear abnormal under a microscope.
Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms
Unlike other breast cancers, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) rarely causes breast lumps and may not appear on a mammogram. Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms include:
- Red, swollen, itchy breast that is tender to the touch
- The surface of the breast may take on a ridged or pitted appearance, similar to an orange peel (often called peau d’orange)
- Heaviness, burning, or aching in one breast
- One breast is visibly larger than the other
- Inverted nipple (facing inward)
- No mass is felt with a breast self-exam
- Swollen lymph nodes under the arm and/or above the collarbone
- Symptoms unresolved after a course of antibiotics
Unlike other breast cancers, inflammatory breast cancer usually does not cause a distinct lump in the breast. Therefore, a breast self-exam, clinical breast exam, or even a mammogram may not detect inflammatory breast cancer. Ultrasounds may also miss inflammatory breast cancer. However, the changes to the surface of the breast caused by inflammatory breast cancer can be seen with the naked eye.
Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can develop rapidly, and the disease can progress quickly. Any sudden changes in the texture or appearance of the breast should be reported to your doctor immediately.
For women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, redness, swelling, itchiness and soreness are often signs of a breast infection such as mastitis, which is treatable with antibiotics. If you are not pregnant or nursing and you develop these symptoms, your doctor should test for inflammatory breast cancer.