Finding breast cancer as early as possible gives you a better chance of successful treatment. But knowing what to look for is not a substitute for screening mammograms and other tests, which can help find breast cancer in its early stages, even before any symptoms appear.
If you have any of these common breast symptoms, get checked right away.
1. Lump in the breast
If you feel a lump in your breast, do not panic. Most lumps are not breast cancer, but something less serious, such as a benign (not cancer) breast condition (learn more). Some lumps will go away on their own. In younger women, lumps are often related to menstrual periods and will go away by the end of the cycle. However, if you find a lump (or any change in your breast or underarm area), it is best to see your health care provider to be sure it is not breast cancer.
2. Skin thickening or redness
If the skin of your breast starts to feel like an orange peel or gets red, have it checked right away. Often, these are caused by mastitis, a breast infection common among women who are breast feeding. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. If your symptoms don’t improve after a week, though, get checked again, because these symptoms can also be caused by inflammatory breast cancer. This form of breast cancer can look a lot like a breast infection, and because it grows quickly it’s important to diagnose it as soon as possible.
3. Swelling in or around your breast, collar bone, or armpit
Breast swelling can be caused by inflammatory breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. 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 may occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast, so if you have this symptom, be sure to see a doctor.
Although most breast cancers do not cause pain in the breast, some do. More often, women have breast pain or discomfort that is related to their menstrual cycle. This type of pain is most common in the week or so before their periods, and often goes away once menstruation begins. Some other benign breast conditions, such as mastitis, may cause a more sudden pain. In these cases the pain is not related to the menstrual cycle. If you have breast pain that is severe or persists and is not related to the menstrual cycle, you should be checked by your doctor. You could have cancer or a benign condition that needs to be treated.
5. Breast warmth and itching
Like skin thickening and redness, breast warmth and itching may be symptoms of mastitis – or inflammatory breast cancer. If antibiotics don’t help, see your doctor again.
6. Nipple changes
Breast cancer can sometimes cause changes to how your nipple looks. If your nipple turns inward, or the skin on it thickens or gets red or scaly, get checked by a doctor right away. All of these can be symptoms of breast cancer.
7. Nipple discharge
A discharge (other than milk) from the nipple may be alarming, but in most cases it is caused by injury, infection, or a benign tumor (not cancer). Breast cancer is a possibility, though, especially if the fluid is bloody, so your doctor needs to check it out.
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