12 Signs of Breast Cancer Explained
You may notice your skin feels thickened and/or there is an obvious lump in the breast. It can be a normal part of menstruation and breastfeeding, however, a thickening in your breast that doesn't go away or gets bigger could also be a sign of breast cancer. The thickening can be just in the skin (a sign of inflammatory breast cancer) or deeper too. The thickening in the skin is caused when blood and lymph circulation in the breast is stopped because of cancer cells blocking the flow, or if a tumor is growing into the skin. The hard lump is caused by the tumor cells which often grow very close together (see "Hidden Lump").
Watery, milky and bloody discharge from the nipple is common and is mostly benign, related to developing breasts, infection, pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, if fluid is leaking from the breast outside of these changes, it could be a sign of breast cancer.
If veins become more pronounced on the skin, this could be a sign of a tumor drawing more blood to itself and changing the blood flow in the skin over the cancer. Keep in mind that this is a normal event for breastfeeding.
An indentation in your breast can happen when a) breasts swell during your period, b) you wear tight clothing. But if it persists, it can also be a sign of breast cancer. A tumor that you may or may not be able to feel deep in the breast can pull on the skin causing it to indent and connective tissue isn't stretching with the skin (no lump). This can be found by looking in the mirror to but if it persists, it can also be a sign of a breast cancer. A tumor that you may or may not be able to feel deep in the breast can pull on the skin causing it to indent as it grows up towards the skin. You can look for this during a self-exam, looking to see if the whole breast skin moves as you raise and lower your arms slowly.
A change in skin texture—like peeling, scaling or flaking that doesn't heal—is a rare symptom of cancer on its own. It can look like a patch of eczema. When breast cancer is advanced, it can break down skin, forming an open wound that can also get infected and smell bad. This is almost always accompanied by an obvious hard lump underneath the skin or thickening in the skin.
New Shape or Size
It's common for one breast to be different in size and shape from the other, but if one of your breasts changes size, flattens, swells or drops unexpectedly and persists beyond your period, this is something that should be brought to the attention of your doctor. Keep in mind breastfeeding naturally can bring these changes as a result of the production of milk.
Known as "Paget disease," this is when cancer cells spread from inside the breast and live in the nipple, creating a scab-like red crusted surface that can be sore. It looks like the red or white scale of eczema on the nipple.
Sometimes a cancerous lump is on the surface of the breast. However, not all lumps and bumps are cancer. Many are cysts (fluid collections) or harmless, benign lumps (fibroadenomas). Many women have lumpy, bumpy breasts. However, if it's something that concerns you, show a doctor. The only way to tell if a suspicious lump is cancer is to look at the cells from that lump under a microscope.
"Orange Peel" Skin
Called "peau d'orange" this is when the skin of the breast looks like the skin of a fruit orange. It swells and hair follicles look like lots of little dimples. This can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.This type of cancer blocks the flow of lymph in the breast skin causing swelling and redness, often with a change in shape and size of the breast but without an obvious hard lump.
Red or Hot
Typically this is an infection or a skin symptom, common to breastfeeding. However, if antibiotics and other treatments don't improve the symptom, it could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer. This type of cancer blocks the flow of lymph in the breast causing swelling and redness, but without an obvious hard a lump.
Not all retracted nipples are a sign of cancer and can be a normal shape of the breast. If you notice your nipple changing and flattening, or turning inwards, it could be a sign of a new tumor underneath, pulling the nipple toward it as it grows underneath your nipple.
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump that is under the skin surface deep in the breast. These may be too small to feel. If you have access to breast cancer screening, use it—a mammogram can detect a lump long before it can be felt. In the USA, at least 39% of women find their own breast lumps. Don't ignore a small breast lump that you find on self-exam, as the sooner a tumor is found, the more curable it is. Early detection of a tumor can save your life.