Symptoms of breast cancer

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 breastfeeding
  • changes in the position of the nipple
The symptoms listed here are more often caused by other medical conditions. But if you have any of them it is important to see your GP.

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. These are usually more obvious just before a period
  • cysts. These are sacs of fluid in the breast tissue, which are quite common
  • fibroadenoma. This is a collection of fibrous glandular tissue which is more common in women younger than 40

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

A lump or swelling in your armpit

You can’t usually feel the lymph glands Open a glossary item in your body. But they can become swollen when you have an infection or a cold. 

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

Change in the size, shape or feel of your breast

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

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

Skin changes

Skin changes of the breast include:

  • puckering
  • dimpling
  • rash
  • redness 

The skin might look like orange peel or the texture might feel different. These skin changes can also be caused by other breast conditions. 

Fluid leaking from your nipple

Fluid leaking from a nipple in a woman who isn't pregnant or breastfeeding can be a sign of breast 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 than usual. 

Breast pain

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

Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer. It can have different symptoms than the other more common types.

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

Paget’s disease of the breast symptoms

This is a rare skin condition. Possible symptoms include a red, scaly rash on the nipple and surrounding area. This can be itchy and looks a bit like eczema.

Breast cancer in men

Breast cancer in men is rare. The most common symptoms include a lump in the breast that is nearly always painless and changes in the nipple. 

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.

Finding breast cancer with screening

Some women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any symptoms. They are diagnosed after having a mammogram as part of their breast cancer screening programme. 

Screening involves testing healthy people for signs that could be due to cancer. It aims to find breast cancers early when they are too small to see or feel. These small cancers are usually easier to treat than larger ones. 

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."

  • Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2018. Last updated 2023 

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015. Last updated 2021 

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    Health Improvement Scotland, 2019. Last updated 2022

  • Inflammatory breast cancer management in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN): the disease, the recurrence pattern, and the outcome
    J Matro and others
    Clinical Breast Cancer, 2015. Vol 15, Issue 1. Pages 1-7

  • Assessment of breast mass
    BMJ Best Practice, Last updated 2022 

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
19 Apr 2023
Next review due: 
19 Apr 2026

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