In the early stages of breast cancer there is usually no pain and there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer grows, however, symptoms may appear, and need to be checked by your doctor:
Be alert for new lumps, changes in nipple or breast shape or size, and unusual pain which won't go away. If you notice any of the following breast changes, it is very important that you show your doctor.
If you have any questions, please call or email our breast nurses for advice.
A new lump
A lump or bump is not always a sign of cancer but show your doctor to rule it out, especially if it's only in one breast. Lumps can appear in the breast, armpit area or around the collarbone. The average lump size found by a woman checking her breasts is 22mm, but a mammogram can detect lumps as small as 2mm. Often a cancerous lump will feel hard but sometimes it could be just a thickening in the breast tissue which feels different to the rest of your breast. It won't move when you push on it but it will grow over time. It is also usually not painful. However, there is no hard and fast rule so if you notice any changes, see your doctor.
An inverted nipple
One of the more noticeable changes is a newly retracted or turned-in nipple, but most women don't know that this is a possible sign of a tumour in the breast. Cancer is not the only cause of new nipple inversion - inflammation or scarring of the tissue behind the nipple may also have caused it. However, it is important to see your doctor if you do notice that your nipple has become retracted as it may mean that a breast cancer is growing in a duct behind the nipple, pulling it into the breast.
If you notice a discharge from your nipple (that occurs without squeezing), show your doctor. It could be any colour, not just bloodstained or clear. Studies have shown that if there is no blood in nipple discharge, women are likely to ignore it, but the absence of blood doesn't mean that there isn't something sinister going on! While nipple discharge could be caused by birth control pills, medicines or an infection, it's important to check with your doctor, as soon as you notice it, to rule out breast cancer.
Some women experience crustiness on or around their nipple. Sometimes it's like a red rash or flaky, scaly skin. It may also feel like an itchy or burning sensation. A crusty nipple could be caused by eczema, breastfeeding, or be a reaction to a new soap, but it could also mean breast cancer so should be shown to your doctor. Other nipple changes, such as the nipple pointing in an unusual direction or changing shape, should also be checked, just in case.
Dimples, puckering or dents
Some women notice dimples, puckering or dents on their breasts. These can appear anywhere, even on the underside of the breast. A good way to check for this is by standing in front of the mirror and lifting up your arms. Do you notice any areas on your breasts where your skin pulls inwards? If you spot anything unusual, make sure to get checked by your doctor as soon as possible.
Reddened, orange-peel-like skin
A change in breast colour, progressive reddening or inflammation needs to be checked out. The breast is swollen, feels heavy or achy and the skin is thickened and may look like orange peel. Redness or sometimes a pink flush occupies at least one third of the breast. Sometimes this is confused with a breast infection but it does not respond to antibiotics.
Unusual breast pain
Many women experience breast tenderness shortly before they get their period. This is normal and usually settles after the period. Most breast cancers don't cause pain in the early stages but if you experience an unusual pain which is not going away it's important to see your doctor.
You should show your doctor if you notice any new change in shape or size of your breasts. This could include unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, particularly in just one breast. It is common for women to find that one of their breasts is a different size to the other - they are normally asymmetric - but if you notice a sudden, new change, you should book an appointment with your doctor.