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More Than a Lump: 8 Less Common Signs of Breast Cancer

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A female patient explains symptoms she has been experiencing to her doctor

Most people know the most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast. But there are other less common symptoms that can signal the disease and may further evaluation by your doctor.

Holly Marshall, MD, Division Chief of Breast imaging at University Hospitals, shares more.

What to Look For

“There are many kinds of breast cancer that can present in many different ways,” Dr. Marshall says. “Any changes in the breast should be evaluated. If you have any of these signs, you need to come in and not wait for your next mammogram.”

Changes that could be signs of breast cancer:

  • Retracted, inverted or downward-pointing nipple
  • Pucker, indentation or dimpling of the skin
  • Thickening or hardening of the skin and/or breast tissue
  • Nipple discharge, particularly bloody or clear discharge
  • Peeling, scaling or flaking of the nipple
  • Rash or swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone
  • A change in breast size

A rapid increase in size of the breast is a sign that needs to be evaluated because that could indicate an advanced type of breast cancer, Dr. Marshall says.

Your primary care doctor may order tests such as an ultrasound or mammogram. Keep in mind, many conditions can cause lumps and other symptoms. Most breast lumps are not cancerous. Two common causes of lumps are benign fibroadenomas and cysts.

The Value of Mammograms

Dr. Marshall says the best way to catch early signs of breast cancer is an annual mammogram starting at age 40 for women at average risk. Mammography can detect cancer that you’re unable to see or feel.

“The whole purpose of screening is to detect breast cancer before it’s clinically evident,” Dr. Marshall says. “The goal is to detect breast cancer before you can feel it. The smaller it is, the easier it is to treat and the better the outcome.”

Mammograms also look for more than masses. “We’re looking for anything that can be a sign of breast cancer. That includes masses, asymmetries (areas that look different than normal breast tissue), calcifications , abnormal lymph nodes and skin thickening.”

“If you are high risk due to family history or other factors, you may want to talk to your doctor about starting mammogram screening earlier than age 40.” Dr. Marshall says.

Related Links

The University Hospitals Breast Health Center provides innovative care to prevent, diagnose and treat benign and malignant breast disease. Learn more.

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