Local Recurrence Symptoms

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If breast cancer comes back locally — in the same area where cancer was originally diagnosed — you may have the following symptoms:

  • a new lump in your breast
  • a new area of the breast that seems unnaturally firm
  • new pulling of skin or swelling at the lumpectomy site
  • redness or swelling of the skin in or around the breast area
  • flattening or other changes to your nipple
  • bumps on or under the skin of your chest wall
  • a new thickening on or near the mastectomy scar

The entire breast area can be swollen and red for as long as a few months after breast cancer surgery and radiation. But if you have concerns about any changes you notice in your breasts, talk to your doctor. Redness also can be a sign of infection, so it's a good idea to have your doctor look at any areas of concern.

If you had a mastectomy and had your breast reconstructed, you may get harmless lumps caused by a build-up of scar tissue or dead fat cells in the reconstructed breast. These types of lumps aren't cancer. Still, your doctor needs to know about any lumps you feel in your breast so they can be monitored for any change in size or tenderness. Since mastectomy and reconstruction usually removes all of the breast tissue and replaces it with other tissue and/or an implant, mammogram is not usually recommended for reconstructed breasts. Your doctor can monitor any new lumps on a reconstructed breast by performing a clinical breast exam. He or she may also recommend additional screening methods such as MRI.

Tests to diagnose local recurrence

To figure out whether a new lump is cancer, your doctor will likely have you get a mammogram. If the results of the mammogram are unclear or suspicious, your doctor may want you to have an ultrasound, an MRI, or a PET scan. If these tests suggest a recurrence, you doctor will biopsy the lump.

To learn more about tests used to screen for recurrence, please visit the Breast Cancer Tests: Screening, Diagnosis, and Monitoring section.

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