Breast Cancer Symptoms

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

The most common symptom of breast cancer is the feeling the presence of a lump or an area of thickened tissue over the breast. Of the lumps nearly 90% are benign or not cancerous but all lumps and abnormalities need to be checked for cancer by using Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) and other biopsy techniques. Breast cancer still remains one of the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and kills thousands worldwide each year.

Breast awareness

The most common way that a potential problem is detected is by regular breast examination by self. The key is for the woman to know what 'normal' is - then changes can be noticed. All women should practise breast awareness. This means the knowledge of the structure, feel and appearance of their breasts.

Warning symptoms

Warning symptoms of breast cancer that can be identified include:

  • Lump within the breast. This may be a lump that is fixed to the skin above it or the chest wall and structures underlying it. A fixed lump is more often than not a sign of cancerous tumor.
  • Thickened tissue over the skin of the breast.
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts.
  • Formation of dimples over the skin of the breast especially when arms are raised or moved. This is due to the attachment of the tumor to the skin overlying it. The dimples give the breast a pitted appearance and the skin change is called Peau d’orange or orange peel appearance.
  • Change in the shape and appearance of one or both nipples. Commonly in cases of a tumour underneath the nipple causes it to be flattened, and alters its appearance. On lifting both arms upwards the position of the nipple may deviate for example.
  • Discharge from one or both nipples. The discharge may be clear, yellow, green or even blood tinged.
  • Rash or sores around the nipple.
  • A lump or more in the armpits, under the collar bone etc. This is a swollen lymp node. Although there are numerous reasons why a lymph node may be swollen, it is best to get checked for breast abnormalities and diseases as well.
  • Pain in either of the breast or armpits not related to periods.
  • Due to extensive lymph node involvement the lymph flow from the arm may be disrupted. This leads to swelling of the arm(s) next to the affected breast.
  • Symptoms of spread of the cancer and an advanced cancer include bone pain or easy fractures, skin ulcers, weight loss, fatigue, convulsions or seizures etc.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 22, 2013

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