Know the Early Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

The unfortunate and frightening reality is that nobody is safe from the risk of developing breast cancer. While the deadly disease is much more prominent in women, with diagnoses occurring every two minutes in the United States, more than 2,500 men also are diagnosed each year. Men and women alike need to know the following signs and symptoms of breast cancer – and be able to identify these warning signs as quickly as possible when they appear.

Woman Checking Her Breast for Lumps


One of the earliest and most well-known breast cancer signs involves the development of a hard lump, or several lumps, in the breast tissue, collar bones or the underarm areas. In some patients, this feels less lumpy and presents as a thicker area of tissue compared with the rest of the breast. These areas can be as small as a pea or as large as a golf ball, although the latter is rare.

In most cases, the lump or lumps are irregularly shaped, firm to the touch and sometimes painful. Meanwhile, benign lumps are typically smoother and flexible when felt. While not all lumps indicate breast cancer, it is impossible to make a prognosis by simply feeling the lump. Plan to see your doctor immediately if you notice a lump or lumps.

Persistent Pain

Even if no lump or thickened tissue area is present, persistent breast and/or nipple pain can still indicate an uncommon type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer. This cancer is rare but extremely aggressive, blocking the lymph nodes in the breast and spreading rapidly. While occasional breast pain can be caused by your menstrual cycle, heartburn or physical strain, consult your doctor immediately if you experience prolonged pain and tenderness.

Changes in Appearance

While the appearance of breasts will gradually change over the span of your life, any sudden changes in size or shape are another common breast cancer sign. Other symptoms that affect appearance could also extend to the skin and nipple, such as:

  • Rash
  • Swelling
  • Peeling or flaking
  • Discoloration or redness
  • Inverted or retracted nipple
  • Irritation or dimpling, similar to the skin of an orange

Fluid from the Nipple

Unless you’re breastfeeding, pregnant or experiencing changes in hormones, discharge leaking from the nipple could signal breast cancer. The fluid will differ vastly in appearance from breast milk, appearing yellow, green, brown, bloody or even clear. Depending on the individual, the discharge could be thick or thin and may have a sticky or watery consistency. If you’re experiencing unexpected leakage, seek medical attention immediately.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Cancer cells claim much of the energy supplied to the body by nutrition and could affect the way the body processes energy from food. Additionally, some of breast cancer’s initial symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, anxiety and lack of sleep, can make eating difficult or unpleasant. If you’ve noticed rapid weight loss or have lost at least 5% of your body weight within four to six months without trying, visit your doctor ASAP to rule out breast cancer or to determine if another medical issue is causing your symptoms.

Don’t Ignore Breast Cancer Signs

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor right away. With so many different types of breast cancer, only a medical professional can rule out the disease. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, our comprehensive, patient-centered care at Regional Cancer Care Associates will help you fight this disease. For more information, contact us today to schedule an appointment at one of our 30 locations in New Jersey, Connecticut or Maryland.