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Breast cancer warning sign #6: Swelling or lump in your armpit

7 Early Warning Signs of Breast Cancer: Page 6

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Armpit

You know how the lymph nodes in your neck and throat can feel sore when you have the flu? Any pain in the armpit is a sign to check the area carefully with your fingers. A lump under the armpit is likely to be hard and attached to surrounding tissues, so it doesn't move when you touch it. Or tissue may feel thickened and dense compared with the armpit on the other side.

How it feels: Like a sore or tender spot under the arm. You may also feel a lump, though not necessarily. Affected lymph nodes may feel swollen or tender or develop a lump before a tumor is big enough to be felt in the breast itself. In some women, the swelling is more prominent under the arm or up under the collarbone.

What causes it: The lymph nodes in your armpit are where breast cancer spreads first, by way of lymphatic fluid that drains from the breast. Since the lymph nodes are the first place it's likely to metastasize, breast cancer is staged according to whether it's lymph-node positive or negative.

Scary stat: If breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate declines to 84 percent, as compared with 98 percent for node-negative breast cancer.

What to do: Colds, flu, and infection can also cause swollen lymph nodes, so if you're sick or have an infection, wait for it to clear up before you worry. But if a lump or tender spot in the underarm area persists for a week with no apparent cause, see your doctor.