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5 Things You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Symptoms

author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.

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5 Things You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Symptoms
It's important to educate yourself. Photo Credit: santypan/iStock/GettyImages

Ladies, listen up! Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women other than skin cancer. As such, it's vital to arm yourself with knowledge about the possible symptoms of breast cancer so you can help you protect your health. And if you experience any symptoms that might suggest the possibility of breast cancer, contact your healthcare provider right away.

1. Sometimes There Aren't Symptoms
You may feel totally fine. Photo Credit: pvstory/iStock/GettyImages

1 Sometimes There Aren't Symptoms

One of the most important things you need to know about breast cancer symptoms is that there frequently aren't any symptoms early on. In fact, most breast cancers in the U.S. are diagnosed in women without symptoms who underwent a screening mammogram. That's why breast cancer screening is essential.

Talk with your doctor about your risk for breast cancer, when to begin screening if you haven't had your first mammogram and whether to be tested yearly or every other year. Factors that might influence when you start breast cancer screening include your race, body weight, physical activity level, the amount of alcohol you drink, family history of breast cancer, presence of certain genes, the ages you began and stopped menstruating, use of hormone replacement therapy and whether you've given birth and at what age.

Read more: Medical Tests Every Woman Needs to Be Healthy for Life

2. A Lump Is the Most Common Symptom
The shower is a good time to check for lumps. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Kaspars Grinvalds

2 A Lump Is the Most Common Symptom

Among women who experience symptoms due to breast cancer, a breast lump is the most common symptom. A 2017 study published in Cancer Epidemiology found that of 2,316 women diagnosed with breast cancer after experiencing one or more symptoms 83 percent had a breast lump. And in 76 percent of the women in the study, a breast lump was the only symptom present.

Familiarizing yourself with how with your breasts feel by examining them regularly can help you detect a new lump. If you've not yet gone through menopause, it's best to examine your breasts right after your period, since your breast tissue might be temporarily lumpy and tender before and during your period. Although most breast lumps are not due to breast cancer, any new lump should be evaluated by your doctor as soon as possible.

3. But There Are Other Breast Symptoms
Persistent pain can be a symptom. Photo Credit: champja/iStock/GettyImages

3 But There Are Other Breast Symptoms

An array of other breast symptoms — either alone or along with a lump — can also signal breast cancer. Breast pain is among the most common of these symptoms. Unlike the generalized breast tenderness you might experience around the time of your period, breast cancer-related pain typically affects only one breast and tends to persist rather than come and go according to your menstrual cycle.

Swelling or a change in the shape of one of your breasts might also signal an underlying breast cancer. Also be on the lookout for breast skin symptoms, including redness, scaliness, a rash, dimpling, thickening, itchiness or a sore that won't heal.

Read more: 10 Changes You Can Make Today to Help Cut Your Cancer Risk

4. Your Nipples Can Show Symptoms
Take time to self-examine. Photo Credit: anyaberkut/iStock/GettyImages

4 Your Nipples Can Show Symptoms

Breast cancer sometimes causes symptoms involving the nipple — with or without an associated breast lump. Other possible nipple-related symptoms include discoloration, soreness, scaliness, thickening, a rash or other changes in the skin of one nipple. Nipple discharge, possibly bloody, also sometimes occurs with breast cancer.

It's easiest to look for changes in the appearance of your nipples while standing in front of a mirror so you can compare them. Check whether both nipples point in the same direction, if one nipple appears flatter than the other or whether one nipple is turned inward — a symptom known as nipple inversion.

5. Symptoms Don't Always Involve the Breast
Unexplained fatigue may be a symptom. Photo Credit: tommaso79/iStock/GettyImages

5 Symptoms Don't Always Involve the Breast

If left, undiagnosed, breast cancer might cause symptoms not involving the breast. These symptoms most frequently occur when the cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue. A lump in your armpit, lower neck or above your collar bone or swelling of one arm might signal the spread of breast cancer to nearby lymph nodes.

Other possible non-specific symptoms include unexplained fatigue or unintentional weight loss. As with other symptoms discussed, these symptoms can occur for many reasons other than having breast cancer — but they shouldn't be ignored. See your doctor without delay if you experience any of these symptoms.

Read more: Medical Tests Every Man Needs to Be Healthy for Life

What Do YOU Think?
It doesn't have to end with surgery. Photo Credit: Pradit_Ph/iStock/GettyImages

What Do YOU Think?

Have you ever thought you had breast cancer? Or have you ever been diagnosed with breast cancer? What was the first symptom? Or was it caught before you had symptoms? Was this information helpful? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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