Breast Cancer Symptoms

Early detection matters. Learn the symptoms and risk factors for breast cancer.
All Rights Reserved

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