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Breast Cancer Symptom Basics

Overview

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women. It occurs when cancer cells grow from breast tissue. Breast tissue includes the lobules and ducts of the breast, along with fatty and connective tissues.

Sometimes there are no symptoms of breast cancer, especially in its early stages. The earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it usually is to treat. This is why early detection is so important. Here are some symptoms to be aware of that could indicate breast cancer. Just because you have one or more symptoms does not mean you have the disease. If you notice any symptoms and they have not been previously evaluated, call your doctor and make an appointment.

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Breast lump

Lump in the breast

For many women, feeling a lump in the breast is one of the first symptoms of breast cancer. The lump may or may not be painful. It’s a good idea to do breast self-exams every month to get to know your breast tissue. Then you’ll notice if a new or suspicious lump has formed.

Learn more about performing a breast self-exam »

Skin changes

Changes in the skin of the breast

Some women notice a change in their breast skin. There are several rare subtypes of breast cancer that lead to skin changes, and these symptoms may be mistaken for an infection. Changes to look out for include:

  • irritation
  • redness
  • any thickening of the skin
  • discoloration of the skin
  • dimpling of the skin
  • a texture similar to that of an orange
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Nipple changes

Changes in the nipple

Your nipple may also show symptoms of breast cancer. See your doctor if you notice a sudden inversion of the nipples, pain, or abnormal discharge.

Underarm lump

Underarm lump

Breast tissue extends under the arms, and cancer can spread through the lymph nodes under the arms. Talk with your doctor if you notice any lumps or abnormal areas in the spaces surrounding your breasts.

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Metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer

Breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is called metastatic breast cancer, or stage 4 breast cancer. While it’s often not curable, it’s possible to manage breast cancer when it spreads. The National Breast Cancer Foundation explains that the organs most likely to be affected by metastatic breast cancer include the:

  • brain
  • bones
  • lungs
  • liver

Your symptoms will vary depending on the organs affected by the cancer.

Bone metastases symptoms include bone pain and brittle bones. Signs of possible brain involvement include changes in vision, seizures, a consistent headache, and nausea. Symptoms of liver metastases include:

  • jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • skin rash or itch
  • loss of appetite or weight loss
  • nausea or fever
  • anemia
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • bloating
  • swelling of the legs (edema)

Those with lung metastases may have chest pain, chronic cough, or trouble breathing.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that your breast cancer has spread. Depression or anxiety can cause some of these symptoms, as can infections and other illnesses. It’s best to call your doctor and schedule an appointment so they can order the appropriate tests.

Read more about metastatic breast cancer »

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Outlook

Outlook

If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you definitely have breast cancer. Infections or cysts, for example, can also cause these symptoms. See a doctor if any of these symptoms have recently appeared or have not been previously evaluated. 

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