The symptoms of breast cancer: Eight signs of cancer you might not know about

For many, the first sign of breast cancer is a lump in the breast. However, breast cancer symptoms can vary widely – from lumps to some less obvious signs such as skin changes. Discovering the symptoms of breast cancer does not necessarily mean it is cancer; however, it is absolutely vital to discuss them with your doctor as soon as possible.

Breast cancer must be recognised and treated early. For people with early breast cancer this may offer the best chance of cure. For breast cancer that has already spread to other organs, known as advanced breast cancer, catching the disease early allows for early discussion and planning for a tailored treatment approach, which may ultimately improve patient outcomes. When it comes to diagnosing breast cancer, time is vital. Know the symptoms of breast cancer and act early.

Changes in the skin texture on or around your breast: puckering

This could suggest a lump inside the breast, which causes the ligaments (fibrous tissue) in the breast to shorten, which pulls the tissue and skin inwards, resulting in a puckered or dented appearance.

Changes in the skin texture on or around breast: dimpling

Dimpling of the skin could suggest that the tiny channels in the breast, called lymph vessels, which help get rid of waste products from the body, have become blocked. This causes the breast to become inflamed and swollen and a large area of skin to develop little dimples, like orange peel. In some cases, this is a sign of a type of breast cancer known as inflammatory breast cancer.

Thickening of the breast tissue

This could suggest a lump in the cells within the milk-secreting glandular lobules or it could be another sign that the tiny channels in the breast, called lymph vessels (which help get rid of waste products from the body) have become blocked.

Developing an eczema-like rash or redness on the nipple or the surrounding area

This is a very rare symptom of breast cancer. In a small number of cases it is linked to a disease that is associated with breast cancer called Paget's disease. While its cause remains unknown, Paget's disease causes an eczema-like itchy red rash on the nipple or surrounding area.

The secretion of unusual discharge (such as blood or pus) from the nipple without squeezing

This could suggest that cancer cells are lining the ducts (small milk-carrying tubes), behind the nipple.

Changes in the nipple such as one becoming inverted or changing its position or shape

Developing an inverted nipple (when you weren't already born with one) which can't be drawn out, may suggest a lump behind the nipple is pulling it in.

Visible veins on the breast

This could suggest a blockage in a blood vessel, that might be caused by a lump or increased supply of blood to the breast, a sign that can accompany tumour growth.

A swelling in the armpit

This could suggest a lump in the lymph glands (which help get rid of waste products from the body) under the arms. Sometimes a lump under the arm can be more noticeable than in the breast.

Breast self-exam

Examining your breasts regularly, knowing the symptoms of breast cancer and speaking to your doctor as soon as possible if you notice something that isn’t normal for you is crucial. This is because early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer improves the chances of fighting the disease.

There is no wrong way to examine your breasts, the key is remembering to ACT:

  • Appearance of the skin:

    Orange peel, vein development, denting

  • Changes to your nipple:

    Rash, redness around the nipple, inverted nipple

  • Thickening of the tissue:

    A lump in breast or under your arm, thickening of the breast tissue

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