Symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear when the tumour grows large enough to be felt as a lump in the breast or when the cancer spreads to surrounding tissues and organs. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as breast cancer.
The most common symptom of ductal carcinoma is a firm or hard lump that feels very different from the rest of the breast. It may feel like it is attached to the skin or the surrounding breast tissue. The lump doesn’t get smaller or come and go with your period. It may be tender, but it’s usually not painful. (Pain is more often a symptom of a non-cancerous condition).
Lobular carcinoma often does not form a lump. It feels more like the tissue in the breast is getting thicker or harder.
Other symptoms of ductal and lobular breast cancer include:
- a lump in the armpit (called the axilla)
- changes in the shape or size of the breast
- changes to the nipple, such as a nipple that suddenly starts to point inward (called an inverted nipple)
- discharge that comes out of the nipple without squeezing it or that has blood in it
Late signs and symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs. Late symptoms of breast cancer include:
- bone pain
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- shortness of breath
- double vision
- muscle weakness
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer. 2015: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/index.
Molckovsky A, Fitzgerald B, Freedman O, et al . Clinical review: approach to inflammatory breast cancer. Canadian Family Physician. Mississauga, ON: The Family Physicians of Canada; 2009.
Morrow M, Burstein HJ, and Harris JR . Malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 79: 1117-1156.
National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Treatment for Health Professionals (PDQ®). 2015.