Lesser-known signs of breast cancer

lesser known signs of breast cancer blog

Finding a lump in their breast is something most people assigned female at birth fear. Not all lumps turn out to be breast cancer. But they are one of the most commonly found early signs of the disease.

It’s important, however, not to focus only on lumps when it comes to breast care. There are less well-known signs that could also indicate breast cancer. And because breast cancer treatment is much more effective when the disease is caught early, don’t ignore any changes you find in your breasts.

6 breast changes to watch for

Rigorous, monthly breast self-exams are no longer recommended for most women, but it’s still important to be familiar with your breasts. Experts suggest checking your breasts regularly and being alert to anything new or different in how your breasts look or feel.

Symptoms (beyond lumps) to look for include:

  • Breast skin changes, such as rough, thickened, dimpled, red or scaly texture
  • Nipple changes, such as becoming inverted or changing in color or texture
  • Nipple discharge not associated with breastfeeding
  • Breast pain not related to your menstrual cycle or an injury
  • Swelling in any area of the breast
  • Swollen lymph nodes under your arm or by your collarbone

Signs of inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, but it often affects younger women and can progress quickly. Young women also typically experience frequent breast changes due to their menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breastfeeding. That can make it easy to write off changes as nothing serious. But it’s crucial to pay attention to what’s going on with your breasts and not ignore possible warning signs.

A breast lump is rarely a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer. The most common signs are:

  • Areas of breast skin that look pitted (like an orange peel)
  • Breast swelling
  • Inverted nipples
  • Redness or bruised appearance to the breast skin
  • Sudden increase in breast size

When to see your doctor

Most breast changes — even lumps — are not breast cancer. But that’s not a reason to ignore them. You should bring any breast changes to your doctor’s attention as soon as possible.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women who have an average risk of breast cancer have annual screening mammograms starting at age 40. After age 55, the ACS suggests annual or every other year screening mammograms.

Women who have a high risk of breast cancer (due to genetics or other reasons) should have an annual breast MRI, in addition to an annual mammogram, starting around age 30. If you have a family history of breast cancer or other factors that put you at high risk of the disease, talk to your doctor about when you should begin screening.

Women with extremely dense breast tissue may benefit from an annual breast ultrasound in addition to a screening mammogram. Dense breast tissue can make it hard to see small tumors on a mammogram. Ask your doctor if you fall into this category, and discuss the best screening options.

Finding and treating breast cancer at the earliest possible stage is the key to more effective treatment. Pay attention to your breasts, and don’t ignore any changes you find in how they look or feel.

Take the Next Step

To learn more about signs of breast cancer, reach out to your primary care physician.