Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel is an important part of your breast health. Although having regular screening tests for breast cancer is important, mammograms do not find every breast cancer. This means it's also important for you to know what your breasts normally look and feel like, so you’ll be aware of any changes in your breasts.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass (although most breast lumps are not cancer). A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be also soft, round, tender, or even painful.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone (Sometimes this can be a sign of breast cancer spread even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)

Many of these symptoms can also be caused by benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions. Still, it’s important to have any new breast mass, lump, or other change checked by an experienced health care professional so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Remember that knowing what to look for does not take the place of having regular screening for breast cancer. Screening mammography can often help find breast cancer early, before any symptoms appear. Finding breast cancer early gives you a better chance of successful treatment.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Henry NL, Shah PD, Haider I, et al. Chapter 88: Cancer of the Breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.

Morrow M. Chapter 3: Physical Exam of the Breast. In:  Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK, eds. Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health; 2014.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Breast Cancer Treatment (Adult) – Patient Version. 2021. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq on October 13, 2021.

Sabel MS. Clinical manifestations, differential diagnosis, and clinical evaluation of a palpable breast mass. UpToDate. 2021. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-differential-diagnosis-and-clinical-evaluation-of-a-palpable-breast-mass on October 13, 2021.

References

Henry NL, Shah PD, Haider I, et al. Chapter 88: Cancer of the Breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.

Morrow M. Chapter 3: Physical Exam of the Breast. In:  Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK, eds. Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health; 2014.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Breast Cancer Treatment (Adult) – Patient Version. 2021. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq on October 13, 2021.

Sabel MS. Clinical manifestations, differential diagnosis, and clinical evaluation of a palpable breast mass. UpToDate. 2021. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-differential-diagnosis-and-clinical-evaluation-of-a-palpable-breast-mass on October 13, 2021.

Last Revised: January 14, 2022

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