Breast Cancer Symptoms

Early detection matters. Learn the symptoms and risk factors for breast cancer.
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Quick summary

Breast cancer is much more likely to be curable if the symptoms are caught early. In fact, early detection and diagnosis can make an enormous difference in prognosis and outcome. So it's worthwhile to be hypervigilant in watching for breast cancer symptoms and aggressive about asking for screening tests and checkups.

Here are the most common breast cancer symptoms, along with key risk factors.

Breast cancer symptoms

  • A lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area
  • Tenderness in the breast or nipple
  • A change in breast or nipple shape
  • Nipple discharge
  • Red, swollen, or scaly skin on the breast or nipple
  • Hot, sore, inflamed feeling in the breast

Breast cancer risk factors

Other factors that increase breast cancer risk are family history (particularly breast cancer in the mother or sister); a genetic mutation known as the BRCA gene (most common in those of Eastern European Jewish descent) greatly increases the risk of breast cancer, particularly when combined with a family history of the disease.

Being overweight or obese or eating a diet high in saturated fat puts a woman at greater risk of breast cancer. Exercising regularly lowers the risk of breast cancer.

Because hormones, particularly estrogen, fuel breast cancer growth, women who got their periods early or didn't start menopause until later in life are at greater risk, as are women who didn't have children or had their first child late in life. Taking hormone therapy (HRT) for menopause symptoms also increases breast cancer risk.

Smoking cigarettes or drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day increases breast cancer risk.

Symptoms of breast cancer that has spread to other areas

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea

Sometimes a woman shows signs of declining health but doesn't have a breast lump or pain and nothing shows up on mammograms and scans. This can mean that a tumor started in the breast but has spread to the liver or other organs and is affecting overall health. Pain in the spine, back, or lung, can lead to the discovery of a breast tumor that's pressing on other organs. It's always important to bring any unexplained symptoms to the notice of your doctor, and be proactive in requesting a full range of tests that can help rule out breast cancer.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

over 1 year, said...

Hi ,the 36 yr old with lump in left breast.I had breast cancer at age 44.I want to tell you ,you are not to young for mamo.please run don't walk and have it checked out,it could save your life.If nothing you will have peace of mind.

over 4 years, said...

breast cancer risk is growing in femails day by day.this is absolutely right that a disease can be cured easily if it is detected at its early stage.

over 5 years, said...

I have a small lump in between my breasts it is not painful but I am getting bad chest pains when I breathe. You cannot see the lump unless I pull my skin back tight. What could this be?.

over 5 years, said...

My daughter has triple negative breast cancer. Anyone familiar with this? She is 1/2 way through treatment. Chemo, surgery, radiation

over 5 years, said...

I have lumps under my arm and in my breast. One is much bigger than the other and they burn, feel itchy and have pain between my shoulder blades. I went to doc months ago about sore breast and arm and he told me I was fine. Went to doc again got student this time who has refer me to breast clinic but told me she doesn't think it's cancer. I feel with every fiber of my body that it is cancer and I'm so scared. My please are falling on deaf ears. The doc found luster off lumps on the breast that hurts the most and I told her it hurts when I lift my arm plus pain in my arm has stopped me writing . Going back to doc this Monday to see if they actually have asked for appointment at breast clinic as I'm close to braking point from worry as my whole family have died off this unforgiving illness . Please could some one help.

almost 6 years, said...

Hi im 36 and i recently found a lump in my left breast . I had my husband check and he also felt it, My breast is swollen and it hurts is it something I need to worry? Breast cancer runs high on both sides of my family. people keep saying im to young to get a mamorgram.

over 6 years, said...

I have a red, itchy, crusty spot on my nipple. I went to my OB/GYN who sent me for a mammogram which came back ok. This spot has been here for 2 months and hasn't gone away. I have used several ointments and nothing has helped. Any suggestions?

over 6 years, said...

Around last year, i had a lump in the left side of my breast.i visited the doctor and he said had to do biopsy. The results was negative it was not malignant''. The lump was in the duct. Its now one year down the line, my breast has not healed.but ikeep on going for check up everytime. Iwonder why is that.

almost 7 years, said...

I have just gone to a surgeon for consult due to post-menopausal leaking. Mammogram was clear 3 months ago. I am to have a sonogram next week. I don't see but 1 sonogram mentioned and not on her breast. Surgeon found no lumps and felt no cysts....

about 7 years, said...

i had nausea months before i felt a lump on my breast

over 7 years, said...

before i found that i had breast cancer, i was feeling very cold even though the temp outside very hot, this would come on suddenly, i would have to get under many blankets to bring back my temp to normal, i took my temp each time this happened, it would read 94 degrees varying even lower, anyone else felt like this, already finished cancer treatments chrmo and mastectomy, radiation, i havent had this symtom anymore 13 lymph nodes postive, carcinoma stage 3c anyone else have the same symtoms?

over 7 years, said...

sequioia_calm, it has been a couple years since your post so I was wondering if you had gotten any answers to your symtoms? I too am a caregiver for my 94 year old Mother 24-7 and have the same symtoms, the breast right side, under the right rib down to the back and hot spots in right side of breast with some pain in underarm area last 3 years. I have had Mammograms and they come back normal, Radiologist says I have dense breast, my Insurance company only allows 1 every 2 years and I am 59, no history of breast cancer in Mothers side just my Father's side his mother. The stress has been enormous with my Mother and is really starting to make me wanna pull out my hair not to mention my irriatability with my poor husband. Thought I would just see if you had any answers yet, I know I need to go see the Dr but feel like I see them every week with my Mother and don't take time for myself, :(

over 7 years, said...

What if your not of age to get screened, like me at 38 and there were not lumps in my breast and the only reason I figured something was wrong was because my back started hurting and i had a fracture because my breast cancer had already spread to my bones. My breast never changed or felt tender or leaking or any other symptoms you discribe. A CT scan of my back is when a swollen lymph node was seen, way back deep in my arm pit that the doctor couldn't even feel, so how was I gonna find it. One of the symptoms I did have i guess because it had gone to my bones is that my breast plate started to pertrude, is was like swollen and more out of my chest, which then changed the way my breast layed significantly for me to notice but by this time I was already seeing a doctor to find out about my back. Just remind women that its a silent killer, and that the real truth. I took the BRAC test and I don't even have the gene for breast cancer or any cancer. Things just happen, so just be aware of any new pains or changes of your body structure.

over 7 years, said...

it was very helpful.1 i sisn't know any signs other than a lump in your breast. thanks a lot and keep me updates to the latest. thanks again, babycakes1

over 8 years, said...

I detected a breast lump and requested prompt removal of the lump. I was told I must first have a biopsy. Even though the pathology report came back "benign" I still insisted that the lump be rmovec. Pathologist founnd malignant tissue in another area of the lump. Take heed, ladies! Shirley Ann

over 9 years, said...

Hi, I'm new on here, but I am really concerned, lately, because for several months now I've had tenderness in my right breast, and along my right side, I also have lower lumbar pain on the right side, and aches under my right rib. Should I consider, other than a mamogram or MRI/ultrasound, getting a CA125 blood test? I know these can sometimes turn out to be false readings, but maybe that is the next best thing, beyond just guessing. I don't have health insurance kicking in, yet, from my job, but even so, the tests for the body, in ruling out malignancy are all so costly. My abdominal ultrasound and pap smear are all clear and okay, which is a big relief, but now I am really noticing the breast thing, on my right side. anyone else have any other suggestions, ideas? Has anyone ever had something like this, in one or both of their breasts? One woman I am a caregiver too, told me it might be a dense tissue thing. She said she has dense breast tissue and hers were always kind of sore. Thanks!