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Treating Breast Cancer Early

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A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer: Pictures of Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By Faith Selchick, DNP, AOCNP

Symptoms of breast cancer include lumps, nipple discharge, and changes in size and shape. It can also include peeling, flaking, or pitting of the skin. If you notice any changes to your breasts, contact your doctor. This article will discuss the early signs of breast cancer and show pictures of each sign. It will also outline when to contact a doctor about your symptoms.

Lumps

A female applies pressure to her breast with the pads of her fingers, checking for lumps.
iStockphoto

Often, a lump is the first noticeable sign of breast cancer. It is also the most common Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source  symptom. However, other conditions can also cause breast lumps. Feeling a lump does not mean you have developed breast cancer.

Typically, a lump occurring due to breast cancer will be painless. It will usually feel hard with uneven edges. However, the lump can also be tender, rounded, and soft. It is important to have your doctor examine any new lumps.

Some lumps are too small to feel and may require a routine screening to detect. Lumps may also appear in the underarm area.

Read more about breast cancer.

Nipple discharge

Cancer-related nipple discharge may be bloody, as it is here.
I. N. Umanah, A. S. Okpongette, 2009

According to the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute, around 5% of people with breast cancer experience nipple discharge. It typically accompanies other symptoms, such as a lump or inverted nipple.

Discharge from your nipples is a possible cause for concern if:

  • You are not nursing.
  • It occurs spontaneously or on its own without squeezing the nipple.
  • It appears out of more than one duct of the breast.
  • There is blood in the discharge.

Often, nipple discharge occurs due to a benign condition. However, you may want to consider telling your doctor about any unexpected discharge.

Read more about nipple discharge.

Changes to size and shape

Breast lumps of varying sizes can cause the breast to change in shape or size.
Medicshots/Alamy Stock Photo

Any change in the shape or size of one or both breasts may indicate breast cancer. However, there are many other benign reasons for changes to your breasts.

These benign reasons include:

  • hormonal changes before or during your menstrual cycle
  • pregnancy
  • hormonal changes before or after menopause
  • hormone therapy or hormonal birth control
  • certain medical conditions, such as cysts or mastitis

Inverted nipple

Publishing the visual guide as we speak
Hic et nunc, 2005

Inverted nipples are only prevalent in around 10–20% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  of the global population. A nipple that suddenly inverts or pulls inward can be a sign of breast cancer.

Inverted nipples are not typically a cause for medical concern in people born with them. However, an acquired inverted nipple may cause concern. An acquired inverted nipple is when previously regular nipples become inverted.

Breast cancer is one possible cause of an acquired inverted nipple. Other causes may include:

  • infection
  • weight loss
  • traumatic fat necrosis
  • sagging breasts
  • tuberculosis

Learn more about the causes of inverted nipples.

Peeling, scaling, and flaking

Peeling, scaling, or flaking skin around a nipple may indicate breast cancer.
Photo by DermNet New Zealand

Peeling, scaling, or flaking skin around your nipple may be a sign Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source  of breast cancer. The skin may also feel itchy or crusty. You may also notice redness or discoloration of the skin around the nipple.

Changes to the skin on your breasts or around your nipples do not always mean cancer. Peeling and flaking skin around your nipple may be due to nipple eczema.

Nipple eczema often occurs due to irritation from tight clothing, soaps, or other products. People who have experienced eczema on other parts of their body may also be more likely to develop it on their nipples.

Paget’s disease of the nipple, a rare form of breast cancer, can also cause peeling and flaking skin that resembles eczema.

Read more about Paget’s disease of the breast.

Skin rash

A breast cancer rash may appear as an irregularly shaped patch of red or discolored skin on the breast.
Photo By DermNet New Zealand

A rash on your breasts may indicate inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC is a rare yet aggressive form of breast cancer.

Other symptoms of IBC include:

  • skin swelling
  • redness, discoloration, or inflammation of the breast
  • one breast becoming swollen or larger than the other
  • skin dimpling, pitting, or thickening
  • inverting nipple

A rash on your breasts does not always mean you have developed breast cancer. Other conditions that can cause a rash on your breasts include:

  • mastitis
  • breast abscess
  • mammary duct ectasia

Read about mastitis.

Pitting or dimpling

This breast shows pitting or dimpling, which causes the skin to look similar to an orange peel.
Levine PH, Zolfaghari L, Young H, et al. What is inflammatory breast cancer? Revisiting the case definition. Cancers (Basel). 2010;2(1):143-52. Published 2010 Mar 3. doi:10.3390/cancers2010143

Pitting or dimpling of the skin is a possible sign of breast cancer. This condition can cause Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source  the skin on your breast to resemble an orange peel.

Skin pitting or dimpling does not always mean you have breast cancer. It is also a common symptom of edema, or swelling, of the breast.

Edema of the breast has many possible causes. However, it most commonly occurs due to breast-conserving surgery or radiation therapy.

Learn more about edema.

When to see a doctor

Side view of a female holding her breast
Westend61/Getty Images

Changes to your breasts, such as lumps or rashes, often do not result from cancer. However, it is important to tell your doctor about any changes you notice. Early detection and treatment are key to improving your outlook if you receive a breast cancer diagnosis.

Contact your doctor if you find a new lump or notice any unexpected changes to your breasts or nipples. Tell your doctor about any nipple redness, discoloration, or soreness that resembles eczema but persists after treatment.

If you have any concerns about your breasts or nipples or discover swelling in your collarbone area, speak with your doctor.

Summary

A lump is often the first sign of breast cancer. Giving yourself regular self-examinations can help you detect these changes early on. Tell your doctor about any lumps you find in your breast, underarms, or collarbone area.

Other symptoms of breast cancer include unexpected nipple discharge and changes to the shape, size, or skin of your breasts. Signs and symptoms may appear in one or both breasts.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to increasing the outlook for people with breast cancer. Tell your doctor about any changes to your breasts.

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Medical Reviewer: Faith Selchick, DNP, AOCNP
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 31
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