Breast Cancer: Reading the Signs

Most breast cancers in adult women are found by feeling a lump or seeing an abnormality on a mammogram. Breast cancer may also be found by other kinds of tests, such as ultrasound or MRI. Here are some of the signs of breast cancer:

A LUMP IN THE BREAST OR UNDER THE ARM. A woman or her doctor might notice a lump in her breast that feels firm or hard, doesn’t go away, or gets bigger. Sometimes a lump can show up in an armpit lymph node from cancer cells that spread from the breast. But, again most lumps are not cancer.

A THICKENING IN THE BREAST. Occasionally, cancer can feel like a thick area of tissue in the breast (not anything round)–sort of like an area of stiff thin carpeting, surrounded by a regular plush shag carpet with a lot of padding.

A CHANGE IN THE SHAPE OR SIZE OF THE BREAST. Sometimes the breast can look different on the outside. A woman might notice a bulge, dimple, or dent. Or perhaps part of or all of the breast appears bigger. A nipple that used to point out might flatten and tuck inside. As breast cancer grows, it pulls in tissue around it, and and that’s how it changes the shape of the breast.

REDNESS OR A RASH. Occasionally, a change in the color of the breast could be a sign of breast cancer. A relatively rare form of breast cancer involves redness and swelling of part or all of the breast.

A SORE ON THE BREAST. Very occasionally, a sore might develop on the surface of the breast or nipple/areola that might itch, bleed, or refuse to heal or go away. It might even get bigger. There could be a lump right underneath the sore spot that feels a little like a mosquito bite. When this happens, only rarely is it a breast cancer. Much more commonly it’s acne or a real bug bite that you may have scratched and it got irritated or infected.

NIPPLE DISCHARGE. If blood comes out of one nipple, it’s usually not cancer. It usually comes from a bunch of normal cells hanging out in the milk pipe under the nipple. In girls, it’s rarely a sign of a breast cancer growth underneath.

Most of the time, breast cancer causes no symptoms–no pain, itching, throbbing, or other feelings. But if there are new and unusual symptoms in one breast that don’t go away or get worse, if they are different from period-related breast symptoms, and if your instincts tell you that something’s not right, then let your doctor know. It’s very unlikely that it will be breast cancer, but it’s still important to check things out.

Excerpted with permission from Taking Care of Your “Girls”: A Breast Health Guide for Girls, Teens, and In-Betweens (Three Rivers Press, 2008).

Marisa Weiss, M.D., is the founder of and Isabel Friedman is her daughter.

My intent is to overcome Breast Cancer

For more breast cancer articles, go to Intent is a new site providing content and a community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.

By Marisa Weiss, M.D., and Isabel Friedman, from Intent


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago


Christia F.
Christia F6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.
Hugs, Tia

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B7 years ago

Noted with thanks.

carole hagen
.8 years ago

Know your signs for breast cancer!

Claire M.
Claire M.8 years ago

Please please please can you get yourself checked if you have a nipple discharge. I am a woman in her 30s and I had read so many times that nipple discharge was not a sign of cancer --- I ignored the discharge for 4 months before seeing a doctor, he then thought I had an infection. After a further 4 months of it still not clearing up I was finally sent to the breast clinic for testing.

The discharge was pus like to begin with, then in the later stages had blood mixed in with it or at times just pure blood coming out of the nipple.

It turns out that I have breast cancer that has also spread to my lymph nodes -- now a year later from the first notice of a discharge I have had a mastecomy and I am about to undergo chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy.

The moral of my story --- nipple discharge IS a sign of cancer.

Pieter M.
Pieter M.9 years ago

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Deborah EP
D. E-Platt9 years ago

Thank you Yasmin for the link regarding Leuren Moret. Very interesting information which every woman should read & write to our politicians about, as well as informing our doctors.

As a woman & a healthcare professional myself I've been suggesting to those I see in my practice that they find out more about thermography & consider it vs using mammography.
It is none invasive, does not damage delicate breast tissue, or expose you to radiation, plus it detects abnormal breast lumps more accurately than mammography is able to pick up.

Sharon Hoehner
Sharie Fox9 years ago


Radiation can be removed from the body. Email me for the file if you'd like to know more:

Yasmin L.
Yasmin L9 years ago

The Biggest Breast Cancer Risk Factor That No One Is Talking About

Leuren Moret is a geoscientist who has been working for a number of years to raise awareness about the dangers of radiation, an issue she became concerned about after hearing Native American women who live near areas where nuclear weapons have been tested talk about cancer and other health problems they are experiencing and by a visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan. In this interview, she talks about what we know about the relationship between radiation and breast cancer.