Symptoms and Diagnosis

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Breast cancer symptoms vary widely — from lumps to swelling to skin changes — and many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all.

In some cases, a lump may be too small for you to feel or to cause any unusual changes you can notice on your own. Often, an abnormal area turns up on a screening mammogram (X-ray of the breast), which leads to further testing.

In other cases, however, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But sometimes cancers can be tender, soft, and rounded. 

It's important to have anything unusual checked by your doctor.

According to the American Cancer Society, any of the following unusual changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:

  • swelling of all or part of the breast
  • skin irritation or dimpling
  • breast pain
  • nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • a nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • a lump in the underarm area

These changes also can be signs of less serious conditions that are not cancerous, such as an infection or a cyst. Again, it’s important to get any breast changes checked out promptly by a doctor.

Breast self-exam should be part of your monthly health care routine, and you should visit your doctor if you experience breast changes. If you're over 40 or at a high risk of breast cancer, you should also have an annual mammogram and physical exam by a doctor. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of beating it.

The actual process of diagnosis can take weeks and involve many different kinds of tests. Waiting for results can feel like a lifetime. The uncertainty stinks. But once you understand your own unique “big picture,” you can make better decisions. You and your doctors can formulate a treatment plan tailored just for you.

Understanding Breast Cancer

Learn about how breast cancer develops, how many people are diagnosed with breast cancer, the factors that can increase your risk, and more.

Screening and Testing

Medical tests are important for detecting breast cancer as early as possible and for getting appropriate care. Read about the tests used for screening, diagnosis, and monitoring; genetic testing; the process of receiving your test results; and more.

Types of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can develop in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple, the lobules that produce milk, or the tissue in between. Learn about the different types of breast cancer, including non-invasive, invasive, and metastatic breast cancers, and others.

Your Diagnosis

A pathology report contains the results of tests on the cancer and nearby tissues. It provides information that you and your doctor can use to make the best treatment plan for your particular diagnosis. Find out in this section about the information your pathology report is likely to include, such as hormone receptor status, HER2 status, and lymph node involvement.

Benign Breast Conditions

Benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions are unusual growths or other changes in the breast tissue that are not cancer. Most breast changes are benign. Learn more about some of the most commonly diagnosed benign breast conditions.


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