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Breast Cancer Symptoms: What You Need to Know

Finding breast cancer early usually makes it easier to treat. Along with getting regular screening mammograms, being aware of how your breasts look and feel is an important part of early detection. Some breast cancer signs are detected best by mammogram. Other signs may be more easily seen as changes in how the breasts look or feel.

It is important to know that not all changes in the breasts are cancer. Benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions are much more common than breast cancer. But it is important to let your health care team know about any changes in your breast so they can be looked into.

Below are some common breast symptoms that should be checked right away.

A lump in your breast

A lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Lumps are often hard and painless, although some are painful. However, not all lumps are cancer. Benign breast conditions (like cysts) that can also cause lumps.

Still, it’s important to have your doctor check out any new lump or mass right away. If it does turn out to be cancer, the sooner it’s diagnosed the better.

Swelling in or around your breast, collarbone, or armpit

Swelling in these areas can occur for many reasons but may indicate cancer. Breast swelling can be caused by certain types of breast cancer.   Swelling or lumps around your collarbone or armpits can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes in those areas. The swelling can occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast. If you have swelling, be sure to let your health care team know as soon as possible.

Skin dimpling

If the skin of your breast starts to feel thicker and looks a bit like an orange peel, have it checked right away. This can be caused by mastitis. This infection is most common among women who are breast feeding but can happen in other women as well. Your doctor may choose to first treat you with antibiotics.

However, if your symptoms don’t improve after a week or so, you should get checked again. These symptoms can also be caused by inflammatory breast cancer. This form of breast cancer can look a lot like a breast infection but is less common and needs to be treated as soon as possible.

Nipple retraction

Breast cancer can sometimes cause your nipple to turn inward. If you notice a change in your nipple, get checked by your health care team right away. This could be a symptom of breast cancer. But nipple retraction can also occur with aging and non-cancer breast conditions.

Nipple or breast redness, dryness, flaking or thickening

Breast or nipple redness, dryness, flaking or thickening may be symptoms of infection or irritation. However, they may also be caused by breast cancer. For any of these types of changes, get checked out by your healthcare team as soon as possible.

Nipple discharge

Having anything other than milk come out of your nipple may be alarming.  In most cases it is caused by injury, infection, or a benign tumor (not cancer). However, breast cancer is a possibility, especially if the fluid is bloody, so have your health care team check it out.


Although most breast cancers do not cause pain in the breast or nipple, some do. More often, women have breast pain or discomfort related to their menstrual cycle. Also, some non-cancer breast conditions, such as mastitis, may cause a more sudden pain. However, if you have breast pain that is severe or persists, you should be checked by your health care team. You could have cancer or a benign condition that needs to be treated.

Breast health includes not only regular mammograms but also watching for changes in how your breasts look and feel. Become familiar with your breasts and report any changes to your healthcare team right away!

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.