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Breast cancer

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Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of breast cancer can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • a lump in the breast – the most common first sign
    • The woman usually finds the lump.
      • Sometimes the lump is seen on a screening mammogram before it can be felt.
    • The lump is present all the time and does not get smaller or go away with the menstrual cycle.
    • The lump may feel like it is attached to the skin or chest wall and cannot be moved.
    • The lump may feel hard, irregular in shape and very different from the rest of the breast tissue.
    • The lump may be tender, but it is usually not painful.
      • Pain is more often a symptom of a non-cancerous (benign) condition, but should be checked by a doctor.
  • a lump in the armpit (axilla)
    • Sometimes small, hard lumps in the armpit may be a sign that breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Although these lumps are often painless, they may be tender.
  • changes in breast shape or size
  • skin changes
    • The skin of the breast may become dimpled or puckered. A thickening and dimpling of the skin is sometimes called orange peel skin, or peau d’orange.
    • Redness, swelling and increased warmth (signs that look like an infection) may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
    • Itching of the breast or nipple may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
      • Itchiness is often not relieved by ointments, creams or other medications.
  • nipple changes
    • Some people’s nipples are always pointed inward (inverted). Normal nipples that suddenly become inverted should be checked by a doctor.
    • Discharge from the nipples can be caused by many conditions, most of which are non-cancerous (benign).
      • Discharge from one nipple may be a sign of breast cancer, especially if it appears without squeezing the nipple (is spontaneous) and is blood-stained.
    • Crusting, ulcers or scaling on the nipple may be a sign of some rare types of breast cancer, such as Paget disease of the nipple.

Late signs and symptoms

Late signs and symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs.

  • bone pain
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • jaundicejaundiceA condition in which the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow and urine is dark yellow.
  • buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
    • shortness of breath
    • cough
  • headache
  • double vision
  • muscle weakness

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