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Understanding breast cancer - symptoms

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

In its early stages, breast cancer usually has no symptoms. As a tumour develops, you may note the following signs:

  • A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle; often the first apparent symptom of breast cancer, breast lumps are painless, although some may cause a prickly sensation. Lumps are usually visible on a mammogram long before they can be seen or felt.
  • Swelling in the armpit.
  • Although lumps are usually painless, pain or tenderness in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer.
  • A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast, which may indicate a tumour that cannot be seen or felt.
  • Any change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast; a reddish, pitted surface like the skin of an orange could be a sign of advanced breast cancer.
  • A change in the nipple, such as an indrawn or dimpled look, itching or burning sensation, or ulceration; scaling of the nipple is symptomatic of Paget's disease, a localised cancer.
  • Unusual discharge from the nipple that may be clear, bloody, or another colour. It's usually caused by benign conditions but could be due to cancer in some cases.
  • A marble-like area under the skin.
  • An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.

Be breast aware

The NHS advises women to be breast aware in order to spot any changes as soon as possible.

This involves getting to know what is normal for you.

The charity Breast Cancer Care urges women to get used to looking at and feeling the breasts regularly. The check needs to cover all of each breast, armpits and the area up to the collarbone.

Seek medical advice about breast cancer if:

  • One or both breasts develop an abnormal lump or persistent pain, or look or feel abnormal. The cause often is something other than cancer but should be identified.
  • You have swollen lymph glands in your armpits. Any such swelling could be associated with cancer.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 31, 2012

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