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Breast Cancer (cont.)

Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Early breast cancer has no symptoms. It is usually not painful.

Most breast cancer is discovered before symptoms are present, either by finding an abnormality on mammography or feeling a breast lump. A lump in the armpit or above the collarbone that does not go away may be a sign of cancer. Other possible symptoms are breast discharge, nipple inversion, or changes in the skin overlying the breast.

  • Most breast lumps are not cancerous. All breast lumps, however, need to be evaluated by a doctor.
  • Breast discharge is a common problem and is rarely a symptom of cancer. Discharge is most concerning if it is from only one breast or if it is bloody. In any case, all breast discharge should be evaluated.
  • Nipple inversion is a common variant of normal nipples, but nipple inversion that is a new development can be of concern.
  • Changes in the skin of the breast include redness, changes in texture, and puckering. These changes are usually caused by skin diseases but occasionally can be associated with breast cancer.

When to Seek Medical Care for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer develops over months or years. Once it is identified, however, a certain sense of urgency is felt about the treatment, because breast cancer is much more difficult to treat as it spreads. You should see your health-care provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Finding a breast lump
  • Finding a lump in your armpit or above your collarbone that does not go away in two weeks or so
  • Developing nipple discharge
  • Noticing new nipple inversion or skin changes over the breast

Redness or swelling in the breast may suggest an infection of the breast.

  • You should see your health-care provider within the next 24 hours because infection should be treated promptly.
  • If you have redness, swelling, or severe pain in the breast and are unable to reach your health-care provider, a trip to the nearest emergency department is warranted.

If an abnormality is found on your mammogram, you should see your health-care provider right away to make a plan for further evaluation.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/18/2015

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