Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Warning signs of breast cancer

A smiling middle-aged woman represents the power and value of knowing breast cancer symptoms.

Warning signs of breast cancer

Your best defense against breast cancer is knowledge. This includes knowing:

  • The warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer
  • How your breasts normally look and feel
  • The health of your breasts through regular mammograms
  • What to do if you’re experiencing breast cancer symptoms

At Scripps Cancer Center, we understand the importance of early detection, and help equip our patients and the community with the most valuable information. For more on breast cancer symptoms, continue reading.

Breast cancer signs and symptoms

Breast cancer signs and symptoms

Breast cancer signs and symptoms fall into four categories:

  • Changes in how the breast or nipple feels
  • Changes in the appearance or texture of the breast or nipple (less common)
  • Nipple discharge (not including breast milk)
  • Lumps or swelling in areas surrounding the breast (underarm or lymph nodes)

The most common warning sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass that develops in the breast tissue or breast area. Some women may find the lump themselves while showering or during a breast self-exam, or their doctors may feel it during a clinical breast exam. In some cases, the mass may be too small to feel and is only discovered on a mammogram or ultrasound exam. 

Breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Mass or lump in the breast or armpit
  • Skin redness
  • Dimpling or puckering on the breast
  • Scaliness on nipple (sometimes extending to the areola)
  • Nipple changes, including the nipple turning inward, pulling to one side or changing direction
  • Ulcer on the breast or nipple (sometimes extending to the areola)
  • Thickening of the skin, resulting in an orange-peel texture
  • Swelling of the breast

Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms tend to develop quickly and do not include a lump. The first signs of inflammatory breast cancer may include:

  • Sudden swelling of one breast 
  • Itchy breast
  • Pink, red or dark colored area on the breast
  • Dimpling of the breast skin
  • Ridges and thickened skin areas on the breast
  • Breast feels warm to the touch
  • Flattened or inverted nipple
  • Breast pain or tenderness

Mammograms and clinical breast screenings can detect breast cancer even before symptoms arise. The earlier that breast cancer is detected, the more likely the patient’s chances of successful breast cancer treatment.

How to handle the warning signs

How to handle the warning signs

Having any of these signs or symptoms does not mean you have breast cancer. Cysts, infections and other non-cancerous breast conditions also may cause symptoms.

However, do call your doctor right away if you have symptoms or any time you notice unusual changes in how your breasts look or feel. Don’t “wait and see” if the changes go away. It’s important to find out what is causing these changes. If you do have breast cancer, early detection can make treatment easier and more successful.

Learn about your risk of breast cancer, diagnosis and treatment options depending on the type of cancer.