Breast Cancer Breakdown: Know the Signs

PHOTO: Woman examining her breast
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More American women are surviving breast cancer, thanks in part to screening tests that can help detect it early. But knowing your own breasts can help you spot changes and report them to your doctor between exams.

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Here are some signs to look out for.

Sources: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.

Breast Cancer Signs

New Lump

A new lump in or around your breast or armpit could signal breast cancer, but most lumps stem from other conditions. Some lumps are small fluid-filled sacs called cysts or non-cancerous changes in the fibrous tissue of the breast. Your doctor can order tests to determine whether a lump could be cancerous.

Read about a woman who found a lump while pregnant.

Breast Cancer Signs

Changes in Breast Size or Shape

Breast cancer can change the way your breasts look and feel, but so can age, your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, weight changes and some medications. Your doctor can tell you whether any changes you notice could be cancerous and order tests to follow up.

Breast Cancer Signs

Breast Swelling or Redness

Not all breast cancers cause lumps. Inflammatory breast cancer can look more like an infection. Although it's very rare, inflammatory breast cancer is aggressive, so it's important to get any redness or swelling checked out right away.

Read about how not all breast cancer has a lump.

Breast Cancer Signs

Skin Flaking or Dimpling

Inflammatory breast cancer can also cause changes in the skin of the breast, sometimes making it look like orange peel. The swelling stems from blocked lymphatic vessels in the skin, though the cancer usually starts in the lining of the milk ducts. Your doctor can determine whether changes to your skin could be signaling cancer.

Breast Cancer Signs

Nipple Inversion or Discharge

Breast cancer can also cause changes to the nipple. Talk to your doctor if your nipple turns inward or if you notice a discharge other than milk. In most cases, nipple changes do not signal cancer. But simple tests can help determine the cause.

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