Different people present with different symptoms of breast cancer. Some may not have any symptoms at all, especially during the early stages. However, the most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or growth in the breast.

On breast self-examination, the woman often detects something unusual after she feels a lump in her breast, which feels different from the rest of the breast tissue.

Breast cancer can develop in males and females, but due to the different types of breast tissue in women, the disease is 100 times more common in females.

However, 90% of lumps in the breast are not cancerous. Notwithstanding this, any lump in the breast must be investigated to rule out cancer. Those with risk factors must undergo screening, which will help in early detection and prompt treatment.

Breast cancer symptoms in women

The woman may experience all or some of the following symptoms and early warning signs over the affected breast. Almost all breast cancer is unilateral – meaning occurring just in one breast. However, bilateral breast cancer is seen to occur in about one to three percent of all people diagnosed.

  • A lump in the breast that feels different to touch than the rest of the breast tissue.
  • A lump in the armpit or axilla, which may indicate a thickened lymph node caused by metastasis of the breast cancer
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Blood-tinged discharge from the nipple
  • Changes in the appearance of the skin over the breast, areola, and nipple such as redness, puckering, and dimpling or puckering giving it an appearance of orange skin (peau de orange)
  • The skin over the breast may turn scaly
  • The nipple of the affected breast may turn inward into the breast
  • There may be nipple tenderness
  • A great majority of breast cancer patients do not experience any pain in the breast. Pain, if present should point towards other breast tissue disorders.
  • In Paget’s disease of the breast, there are eczematous changes and flaking over the skin of the nipple. Later, there may be itching, tingling, redness, burning, and pain over the skin of the nipple.
  • In inflammatory breast cancer, the whole breast becomes red, inflamed, and very sore.

Early warning signs of breast cancer

  • You will feel a lump in your breast or under the arm that persists and doesn’t go away. This is often the first presenting symptom of breast cancer. On a mammogram, this lump can be detected much before you can feel it.
  • You may develop swelling in your armpit or near your collarbone. This indicates that the breast cancer has spread to the lymph node in that area.
  • There may be pain and tenderness over the lump.
  • There may be flattening of an area of the breast.
  • There may be changes in the size, shape, or consistency, of your breast.
  • Your nipple of the breast too may show changes. It may be pulled inward, it may dimple, itch, or may develop sores.
  • There may be a clear or bloody discharge from the nipple.

What kind of lumps in your breast should you worry about?

As mentioned above, most lumps in the breast are non-malignant. The lumps you should worry about that could be cancerous exhibit certain characteristics. Check them out:

  • Lumps that feel harder from the rest of the breast tissue. However, a hard lump could still be a sign of a benign breast condition such as a cyst or fibroadenoma.
  • A cancerous lump may feel rounded and tender to the touch. It can even be hard and irregularly shaped.
  • The lump may even be painful. However, a cancerous lump can also be painless. Only 2 and 7 percent of the painful lumps will be cancerous.
  • Lumps in dense breasts are more likely to be cancerous. The more the amount of dense tissue, the higher the risk
  • What typically differentiates a benign breast lump from a cancerous breast lump is the mobility of the lump. A lump filled with fluid as in a cyst, rolls and moves when palpated and is less likely to be malignant than a hard lump that is fixed in one place.
  • Another sign of a cancerous lump could be that the skin over the lump may turn red, dimpled, or pitted like the peel of an orange.
  • There may be discharge from the nipple. A clear and bloody discharge is indicative of breast cancer.

Symptoms of advanced breast cancer

Advanced breast cancer symptoms can be local, general, and specific to the body organ where the breast cancer has spread.

Breast cancer metastasis commonly occurs in the bone, liver, lung, and brain.  Related and specific symptoms then present themselves. They include:

  • Certain nonspecific symptoms include unexplained weight loss and fever with chills. However, these are general symptoms and can also be due to other causes.
  • Bone and joint pain due to metastasis to bone
  • Neurological symptoms due to metastasis to the brain such as headaches and memory problems
  • Skin ulcers
  • Jaundice or  abdominal swelling due to metastasis to the liver
  • Chronic cough or shortness of breath due to metastasis to the lungs

Symptoms of breast cancer in men

Male breast cancer is more common in older men, though it can occur at any age. A man with breast cancer may experience:

  • A painless lump in the breast or thickening of breast tissue
  • Changes in the skin over the breast, such as dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaling
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or the nipple can turn inward
  • Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple