What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Early Detection Saves Lives

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. There is a 1 in 8 chance that women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Knowing breast cancer symptoms empowers women to take control of their health. Recognizing the signs of breast cancer early and seeking treatment can increase the chances of treatment success.

Women experience breast changes throughout their lifetime. Many changes are nothing to worry about; however, it is still important to have changes examined by a physician to rule out cancer.

Women are encouraged to:

  • Perform monthly self-exams. Knowing what your breasts normally feel like helps you recognize any changes.
  • Pay close attention to breast changes. It is not uncommon for breasts to feel lumpy due to benign fibrocystic disease, scar tissue, cysts and infections. It also should be noted that the breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender several days after menstruation.
  • Have annual mammograms starting at age 40. A mammogram uses low-energy X-rays to examine the breast. Most mammograms detect breast cancers before symptoms show.

Women with early breast cancer may not have pain or notice any breast changes. This is why routine screening tests are so important, as they can detect the disease in its early stages before there are any breast cancer symptoms.

Other women notice signs of breast cancer, which can include:

  • A lump, thickening, or swelling in or near your breast
  • A lump, thickening, or swelling under your arm
  • A change in the size or shape of your breast
  • The skin on the breast becoming dimpled or puckered
  • The skin on the breast turns red or purple
  • Changes in the feel of the skin of your breast, such as turning itchy or scaly

Breast cancer nipple symptoms can include:

  • Nipple discharge, especially if it is bloody
  • Nipple inversion, meaning the nipple pulls back into your breast
  • Nipple pain, tenderness, or aching
  • The nipple becoming dimpled, puckered, or turning red or purple
  • A change in the feel of the nipple, such as turning itchy or scaly

Breast Cancer Types and Associated Symptoms

Ductal Carcinoma

Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. It originates in the ducts. Symptoms may not present with ductal carcinoma. If they do, they usually are:

  • A lump in the breast
  • A bloody discharge

Lobular Carcinoma

Lobular carcinoma is the second most common type of breast cancer. It presents in the lobules, the glands which make milk. Symptoms may include:

  • Fullness, thickening, or swelling in one area of the breast
  • Flat or inverted nipples

Invasive Breast Cancer

Invasive breast cancer also known as invasive or infiltrating breast cancer, originates in the breasts and spreads to nearby tissues. Symptoms may include:

  • A breast or armpit lump
  • Breast asymmetry
  • Thick, red, or dimpled skin
  • A rash
  • Sores on the skin
  • Breast swelling
  • Small, hard lymph nodes
  • Pain localized to one area

Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic breast cancer, also known as advanced or secondary cancer, spreads to other areas of the body and potentially to the organs. Symptoms are generally localized to the area of the body where cancer has spread. They may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Impaired brain function
  • Stomach swelling
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Double vision
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers. It does not have estrogen and progesterone hormone receptors, does not make a lot of HER2, a growth-promoting protein on the outside of all breast cells. Symptoms may be similar to symptoms of other cancer types, but cancer may spread and grow faster than other types of breast cancer.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer. Its symptoms may mirror those of an infection, including:

  • Breast warmness, swelling, and redness
  • Dimpled, leathery, or rigid skin
  • Inverted nipples
  • Nipple discharge

Papillary Carcinoma

Papillary carcinoma is a rare ductal cancer named after the tiny lumps called papules on the tumor. Symptoms may include:

  • A small, hard cyst
  • Bloody nipple discharge

Angiosarcoma

Angiosarcoma, cancer that originates in the blood vessels and lymph nodes, makes up less than 2 percent of breast cancers. Symptoms may include:

  • A lump
  • A purple, bruised area of the skin
  • Skin that bleeds easily
  • Pain localized to one area

Many of the breast cancer symptoms and signs of breast cancer can mimic other health problems and not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Find an RWJBarnabas Health physician who can diagnose your symptoms.

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best breast cancer specialists call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

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