Due to the use of regular mammography screening, most breast cancers in the U.S. are found at an early stage, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography.
The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. The most common symptoms are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge.
If you have any of the symptoms described below, see a health care provider [5-7]. If you do not have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend. If that is not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital.
Learn more about finding a health care provider.
In most cases, these changes are not cancer. For example, breast pain is more common with benign (not cancer) breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to see a provider. If you have breast cancer, it is best to find it at an early stage, when the chances of survival are highest.
Breast lumps or lumpiness
Many women may find that their breasts feel lumpy. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. For some women, the lumpiness is more pronounced than for others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry.
If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it is probably normal breast tissue.
Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast) or that feel like a change are a concern and should be checked. When this type of lump is found, it may be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition (as a cyst or fibroadenoma). Learn more about benign breast conditions.
See your health care provider if you:
- Find a new lump (or any change) that feels different from the rest of your breast
- Find a new lump (or any change) that feels different from your other breast
- Feel something that is different from what you felt before
If you are unsure whether you should have a lump (or any change) checked, it is best to see a provider. Although a lump (or any change) may be nothing to worry about, you will have the peace of mind that it has been checked.
Liquid leaking from your nipple (nipple discharge) can be troubling, but it is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body's natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed.
Signs of a more serious condition (such as breast cancer) include discharge that:
- Occurs without squeezing the nipple
- Occurs in only one breast
- Is bloody or clear (not milky)
Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or other condition that needs treatment. For these reasons, if you have any nipple discharge, see a health care provider.