Breast cancer symptoms

The first symptom of breast cancer most people notice is a lump in their breast or some thickening.

Breast symptoms to look out for:

  • a new lump or thickening in your breast or armpit
  • a change in size, shape or feel of your breast
  • skin changes in the breast such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin
  • fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who isn’t pregnant or breast feeding
  • changes in the position of the nipple
These symptoms listed here are more often caused by other medical conditions. But if you have any of them it is important to see your doctor.

Breast lump

Most breast lumps are not cancer. Lumps that aren’t cancer are called benign lumps.

Most benign breast lumps are:

  • areas of normal lumpiness that is more obvious just before a period
  • cysts – sacs of fluid in the breast tissue, which are quite common
  • fibroadenoma – a collection of fibrous glandular tissue (these are common in younger women, for example under 30)

It is important to always get a breast lump checked by your doctor. They will arrange for you to have tests to find out whether your lump is cancerous or not.

A lump or swelling in your armpit

You can’t usually feel the lymph glands in your body. But they often become swollen when you have an infection or a cold, including the lymph nodes in the armpit.

A less common cause of swollen lymph glands or lump in the armpit is breast cancer that has spread to this area. 

Change in size, shape or feel of your breast

A cancer might cause your breast to look bigger or have a different shape than usual, it might feel different. 

Many healthy women find that their breasts feel lumpy and tender just before their period. 

It can help to be breast aware. This means getting to know the size, shape and feel of your breasts. 

Skin changes

Skin changes include puckering, dimpling, a rash, or redness of the skin of the breast. Some people have a rash or redness of the nipple and the surrounding skin.

The skin might look like orange peel or the texture might feel different. This can be caused by other breast conditions. But get your doctor to check out anything that is not normal for you.

Fluid leaking from your nipple

Fluid leaking from a nipple in a woman who isn't pregnant or breastfeeding can be a sign of cancer. But other medical conditions can also cause this.

Change in the position of your nipple

One nipple might turn in or sink into the breast. It might look or feel different to usual. 

Do see your doctor if you notice anything different or unusual with one or both nipples.

Breast pain

Breast pain is very common and it’s not normally due to cancer. You might get pain in one or both breasts for a while, which goes after a time. There might be no obvious reason for this pain, even if you have a lot of tests.

Do see your doctor if you have breast pain. They can give you advice on how to treat the pain and whether you need any tests. 

Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms

A rare type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer can have different symptoms to other types.

Your whole breast might look red and inflamed and feel sore. The breast might feel hard and the skin might look like orange peel.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Paget’s disease of the breast

This is a rare skin condition that is sometimes a sign of an underlying breast cancer. The symptoms are a red, scaly rash on the nipple and surrounding area. This can be itchy and looks a bit like eczema. It is sometimes mistaken for eczema at first.

See your doctor if you have any changes in the skin of your breast. 

Seeing your doctor

Your symptoms may not be due to breast cancer, and they may not make you feel unwell. But it is important that any symptoms you have are checked by a doctor, even if you are feeling well.

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful.

Pam's story

Pam was referred by her GP to the hospital. This is her story about her diagnosis and treatment. 

"I noticed my left nipple was permanently inverted. I went to my GP as I knew this could be a warning sign of breast cancer.  My doctor referred me to the local hospital for a 2 week One Stop Breast Service appointment."

Last reviewed: 
05 Sep 2020
Next review due: 
05 Mar 2023