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West Hills Hospital & Medical Center
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Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer does not always cause symptoms. The appearance of symptoms will depend on factors like the type, size, and location of the cancer. If you experience any symptoms, do not assume it is due to cancer. Many symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions, such as a breast cyst. However, it is still important to discuss them with your doctor. Early detection and treatment improve outcomes for both cancer and other health conditions.

Breast Changes

Early breast cancer usually does not cause physical pain, and symptoms may not initially be noticeable. The most common symptom is a painless lump or thickening in or near the breast, or in the underarm area. In some cases, the lump or thickening may cause pain. If the lump stops growing or shrinks, it does not mean the problem has gone away. Any changes in the breast should be reported to your doctor.

Other changes to be aware of include:

  • A change in the shape or size of the breast
  • Nipple discharge or tenderness
  • Inverted nipple
  • Ridges or pitting of the breast (resembling the skin of an orange)
  • A change in the way the skin of the breast, nipple, or areola (dark area surrounding the nipple), looks or feels (warm, swollen, red, or scaly)
  • A sore or ulcer on the breast that does not heal

Advanced Symptoms

Later stages of cancer may cause:

  • Pain or a sensation of a mass
  • Decreased appetite and unintended weight loss
  • Intense fatigue, abnormally low energy
  • Abdominal or back pain caused by pressure on nearby nerves
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in the legs, which may be caused by an obstruction in the veins or lymphatic system
  • Bone pain

Revision Information

  • Breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003090-pdf.pdf. Accessed October 22, 2015.

  • Breast cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/breast-disorders/breast-cancer. Updated September 2013. Accessed October 22, 2015.

  • Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113654/Breast-cancer-in-women. Updated September 14, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

  • General information about breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq. Updated August 13, 2015. Accessed October 22, 2015.