Breast Cancer Symptoms Beyond the Lump

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 25, 2020

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump in your breast or your underarm. It may be soft or hard. It could be painful or painless. It might feel rubbery or like a hard knot, ball, or nodule.

But lumps aren’t the only breast cancer signs. Other symptoms can signal cancer.

Breast Changes

You may notice differences in your breasts over time, especially as your hormone cycles change. These usually aren’t linked to cancer. But it’s best to know for sure.

A difference in how your breast looks or feels could be a sign of cancer: You might spot:

  • Changes in the size of your breast
  • Changes in the shape of your breast
  • Pain in one area that doesn’t go away
  • Redness or darkening of your breast
  • Skin dimpling, puckering, or thickening that looks like an orange peel
  • Swelling in one area
  • Swelling in the entire breast
  • Warmth in your breast
  • A sore on your breast

Nipple Changes

Even small changes in how your nipples look or feel could be related to breast cancer. You might notice:

  • Your nipple is sore, painful, or itchy.
  • It looks red, dry, scaly, flaky, or thick.
  • It pulls inward or retracts.
  • The direction of your nipple changes.
  • There’s a sore on it.
  • Your areola looks scaly or has a sore.

Nipple Discharge

Your nipples may leak liquid from time to time. This usually isn’t cancer.

Squeezing a nipple could bring out the discharge . If you’re breastfeeding, you may leak breast milk. Infections and other conditions may also cause nipple discharge.

But nipple discharge could be a sign of breast cancer if:

  • You notice it when your nipple isn’t squeezed.
  • It only comes from one breast.
  • The liquid is clear or bloody instead of milky.
  • It happens suddenly.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Sometimes breast cancer spreads to your lymph nodes. You may be more likely to notice this than a tumor in your breast.

Look for swelling, a thickened area, or a lump under your arm or near your collarbone.

A Special Note for Men

It’s less common, but men can get breast cancer, too. In addition to lumps, the most common signs are:

  • Dimpling
  • Lumps
  • Nipple discharge

Symptoms Differ

Breast cancer symptoms aren't the same for everyone.

Get to know your breasts so you’ll notice if anything changes. Many people notice things during regular, day-to-day activities like showering or putting deodorant on. If you spot a new mass, lump, or change in your breast or nipple, see your doctor. If you need to see a specialist, they can refer you. Or you can get a suggestion from someone you trust, like a family member or friend.

The doctor will do an exam and ask you about your health history and your family’s history of breast cancer. You may get a mammogram, or X-ray of your breasts. The doctor could order follow-up tests like an ultrasound, MRI, blood tests, or biopsy.

Even though your symptoms may be related to other things, it’s best to see a doctor to find out for sure. They can tell what’s causing the symptoms and rule out other conditions. If it’s breast cancer, it’s best to find it as soon as possible so it can be treated early.

WebMD Medical Reference



MD Anderson Cancer Center: “Breast cancer symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.”

Susan G. Komen: “Benign Breast Conditions,” “Warning Signs of Breast Cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Breast Cancer.”

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