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Breast cancer symptoms vary widely — from lumps to swelling to skin changes — and many breast cancers have no obvious symptoms at all. Symptoms that are similar to those of breast cancer may be the result of non-cancerous conditions like infection or a cyst.

Breast self-exam should be part of your monthly health care routine, and you should visit your doctor if you experience breast changes. If you're over 40 or at a high risk for the disease, you should also have an annual mammogram and physical exam by a doctor. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better your chances of beating it.

The actual process of diagnosis can take weeks and involve many different kinds of tests. Waiting for results can feel like a lifetime. The uncertainty stinks. But once you understand your own unique “big picture,” you can make better decisions. You and your doctors can formulate a treatment plan tailored just for you.

Most screening mammograms include two views of each breast taken from different angles. Diagnostic mammograms involve taking more views than screening mammograms. Even if you have a lump in only one breast, pictures will be taken of both breasts.

Breast self-exam (BSE), or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be an important way to find a breast cancer early, when it's more likely to be treated successfully. Not every cancer can be found this way, but it is a critical step you can and should take for yourself.

Over the years, there has been some debate over just how valuable BSE is in detecting breast cancer early and increasing the likelihood of survival. For example, in summer 2008, one study of nearly 400,000 women in Russia and China reported that breast self-examination does not reduce breast cancer mortality and may even cause harm by prompting unnecessary biopsies (removal and examination of suspicious tissue). Because of the ongoing uncertainty raised by this and other studies, the American Cancer Society has chosen to advise women that BSE is an “optional” screening tool.

Breastcancer.org still believes that BSE is a useful and essential screening strategy, especially when used in combination with regular physical exams by a doctor and mammography. About 20% of the time, breast cancers are found by physical examination rather than by mammography. We recommend that all women routinely perform breast self-exams as part of their overall breast cancer screening strategy. Read what Marisa Weiss, M.D., president and founder of Breastcancer.org, has to say about the July 2008 study of breast self-exam.

Tips for performing BSEFew women really want to do a breast self-exam, or BSE, and for many the experience is frustrating — you may feel things but not know what they mean. However, the more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will become for you to tell if something unusual has occurred. Breastcancer.org believes that BSE is an essential part of taking care of yourself and lowering your risk of breast cancer.

Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.

Here's what you should look for:Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and colorBreasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling

If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor's attention:Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skinA nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling Breast Self-Exam — Step 1 

Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes. Breast Self-Exam — Steps 2 and 3 

Step 3: While you're at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.

Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage. Breast Self-Exam — Step 4

Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4

Question: I'm worried I might have breast cancer. What are the signs?

Answer: Often there are no outward signs of breast cancer that you can see or feel. If there are outward signs, the more common ones include a lump, an area of thickening, or a dimple in the breast. Less common signs include breast swelling and redness or an enlarged underarm lymph node.

But even if you have one or more of these signs, it still doesn't mean you have breast cancer. Remember that most breast lumps turn out to be benign (not cancerous).

Still, it's extremely important that you SEE YOUR DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY if you're worried that you might have breast cancer. Having your doctor take a look will ease your worry, and if anything is found, you'll be able to take care of it quickly.

Physical examination of the breast is one way to find breast cancer. You can read about other screening methods for detecting breast cancer in our Screening & Testing section.

To find out whether specific symptoms are associated with breast cancer, read the Breastcancer.org experts' answers to common questions about:lumpsnipple changescystsbreast pain

You can also learn how to perform breast self-examination.

And you can read more about the risk factors for breast cancer.

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer Due to the use of regular mammography screening, most breast cancers in the U.S. are found at an early stage, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography.  

The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. The most common symptoms are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge.  

If you have any of the symptoms described below, see a health care provider [5-7]. If you do not have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend. If that is not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital.  

Learn more about finding a health care provider.

In most cases, these changes are not cancer. For example, breast pain is more common with benign (not cancer) breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to see a provider. If you have breast cancer, it is best to find it at an early stage, when the chances of survival are highest.  Breast lumps or lumpiness

Many women may find that their breasts feel lumpy. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. For some women, the lumpiness is more pronounced than for others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry.  

If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it is probably normal breast tissue.  

Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast) or that feel like a change are a concern and should be checked. When this type of lump is found, it may be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition (as a cyst or fibroadenoma). Learn more about benign breast conditions.   

See your health care provider if you: Find a new lump (or any change) that feels different from the rest of your breast Find a new lump (or any change) that feels different from your other breast Feel something that is different from what you felt before

If you are unsure whether you should have a lump (or any change) checked, it is best to see a provider. Although a lump (or any change) may be nothing to worry about, you will have the peace of mind that it has been checked.  Nipple discharge

Liquid leaking from your nipple (nipple discharge) can be troubling, but it is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body's natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed.  

Signs of a more serious condition (such as breast cancer) include discharge that: Occurs without squeezing the nipple Occurs in only one breast Is bloody or clear (not milky)

Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or other condition that needs treatment. For these reasons, if you have any nipple discharge, see a health care provider.  

Updated 03/14/14

What is cancer? In a healthy body, natural systems control the creation, growth and death (called apoptosis) of cells. Cancer occurs when these systems do not work right and cells do not die at the normal rate. There is more cell growth than cell death. This excess growth can make a mass of tissue. What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast divide and grow without their normal control. Tumors in the breast tend to grow slowly. By the time a lump is large enough to feel, it may have been growing for as long as 10 years. (Some tumors are aggressive and grow much faster.)  

Between 50 and 75 percent of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts, 10 to 15 percent begin in the lobules and a few begin in other breast tissues [4]. Learn more about breast anatomy.  

It is important to understand the differences between invasive breast cancer and non-invasive breast cancer, called ductal carcinoma in situ (DUK-tul kar-sin-O-ma in SY-too, sometimes called DCIS). These differences affect treatment and prognosis.  

Learn more about breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.   Invasive breast cancer

Invasive breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells from inside the milk ducts or lobules break out into nearby breast tissue. Cancer cells can travel from the breast to other parts of the body through the blood stream or the lymphatic system. They may travel early in the process when the tumor is small or later when the tumor is large.  

The lymph nodes in the underarm area (the axillary lymph nodes) are the first place breast cancer is likely to spread. In advanced stages, breast cancer cells may spread to other parts of the body like the liver, lungs, bones and brain (a process called metastasis). There, the breast cancer cells may again begin to divide too quickly and make new tumors.  Non-invasive breast cancer - ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)

When abnormal cells grow inside the milk ducts, but have not spread to nearby tissue or beyond, the condition is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The term "in situ" means "in place." With DCIS, the abnormal cells are still "in place" inside the ducts. DCIS is a non-invasive breast cancer (you may also hear the term “pre-invasive breast carcinoma”).  

Although the abnormal cells have not spread to tissues outside the ducts, they can develop into invasive breast cancer. Learn more about DCIS and the risk of invasive breast cancer.  

Learn about treatment for DCIS. Breast cancer in men

Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. Learn more about breast cancer in men.  

Updated 03/20/14

The male breast Though boys and girls begin life with similar breast tissue, over time, men do not have the same complex breast growth and development as women. At puberty, high testosterone and low estrogen levels stop breast development in males. Some milk ducts exist, but they remain undeveloped, and lobules are most often absent. However, breast problems, including breast cancer, can occur in men.  

Learn more about breast anatomy.  

Find statistics on breast cancer in women.   Breast cancer in men

Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. In the U.S., about one percent of all breast cancer cases occur in men [41]. In 2014, it is estimated that among men in the U.S., there will be [37]: 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer (includes new cases of primary breast cancer among survivors, but not recurrence of original breast cancer among survivors) 
  430 breast cancer deaths

Rates of breast cancer incidence (new cases) and mortality (death) are much lower among men than among women [38]. For example, in 2010 (most recent data available)

Survival rates for men are about the same as for women with the same stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis [40]. However, men are usually diagnosed at a later stage because they are less likely to report symptoms [40].  Warning signs of breast cancer in men

The most common sign of breast cancer in men is a painless lump or thickening in the breast or chest area [40,67-69]. However, any change in the breast or nipple can be a warning sign of breast cancer in men including [40,67-69]: Lump, hard knot or thickening in the breast, chest or underarm area (usually painless, but may be tender) Change in the size or shape of the breast Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin of the breast Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple Pulling in of the nipple (inverted nipple) or other parts of the breast Nipple discharge (rare)

These symptoms may also be signs of a benign (non-cancer) breast condition. As men tend to have much less breast tissue compared to women, some of these signs can be easier to notice in men than in women. Don’t delay seeing a health care provider

Some men may be embarrassed about a change in their breast or chest area and put off seeing a health provider, but this may result in a delay in diagnosis. Survival is highest when breast cancer is found early.  

If you notice any of these signs or other changes in your breast, chest area or nipple, see a provider right away. If you do not have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend. If that is not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital.  

Learn more about finding a health care provider.  Types of breast cancer in men

For men (and women), most breast cancers begin in the milk ducts of the breast (invasive ductal carcinomas). Fewer than five percent of breast cancers in men begin in the lobules of the breast (invasive lobular carcinoma) [70-71]. Learn more about the anatomy of the breast.  

In rare cases, men can be diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive breast cancer), inflammatory breast cancer or Paget disease of the breast (Paget disease of the nipple) [40,67-68]. Paget disease of the breast is a cancer that begins in the milk ducts of the breast tissue, but spreads to the skin of the nipple. It can cause a scaly rash on the skin of the nipple. Although Paget disease of the breast is rare, it occurs more often in men than in women [68].  

Learn about treatment for breast cancer in men.  

Learn more about the anatomy of the breast. 

If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away. 2014

Your Local Offices Close+-Text Size Signs and Symptoms of Cancer What are signs and symptoms? Signs and symptoms are both signals of injury, illness, disease, or that something is not right in the body.

A sign is a signal that can be seen by someone else—maybe a loved one, or a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional. For example, fever, fast breathing, and abnormal lung sounds heard through a stethoscope may be signs of pneumonia.

A symptom is a signal that is felt or noticed by the person who has it, but may not be easily seen by anyone else. For example, weakness, aching, and feeling short of breath may be symptoms of pneumonia.

Having one sign or symptom may not be enough to figure out what’s causing it. For example, a rash in a child could be a sign of a number of things, such as poison ivy, measles, a skin infection, or a food allergy. But if the child has the rash along with other signs and symptoms like a high fever, chills, achiness, and a sore throat, then a doctor can get a better picture of the illness. Sometimes, a patient’s signs and symptoms still don’t give the doctor enough clues to be sure what is causing the illness. Then medical tests, such as x-rays, blood tests, or a biopsy may be needed. How does cancer cause signs and symptoms?

Cancer is a group of diseases that can cause almost any sign or symptom. The signs and symptoms will depend on where the cancer is, how big it is, and how much it affects the organs or tissues. If a cancer has spread (metastasized), signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.

As a cancer grows, it can begin to push on nearby organs, blood vessels, and nerves. This pressure causes some of the signs and symptoms of cancer. If the cancer is in a critical area, such as certain parts of the brain, even the smallest tumor can cause symptoms.

But sometimes cancer starts in places where it will not cause any signs or symptoms until it has grown quite large. Cancers of the pancreas, for example, usually do not cause symptoms until they grow large enough to press on nearby nerves or organs (this causes back or belly pain). Others may grow around the bile duct and block the flow of bile. This causes the eyes and skin to look yellow (jaundice). By the time a pancreatic cancer causes signs or symptoms like these, it’s usually in an advanced stage. This means it has grown and spread beyond the place it started—the pancreas.

A cancer may also cause symptoms like fever, extreme tiredness (fatigue), or weight loss. This may be because cancer cells use up much of the body’s energy supply, or they may release substances that change the way the body makes energy from food. Or the cancer may cause the immune system to react in ways that produce these signs and symptoms.

Sometimes, cancer cells release substances into the bloodstream that cause symptoms which are not usually linked to cancer. For example, some cancers of the pancreas can release substances that cause blood clots in veins of the legs. Some lung cancers make hormone-like substances that raise blood calcium levels. This affects nerves and muscles, making the person feel weak and dizzy. How are signs and symptoms helpful?

Treatment works best when cancer is found early—while it’s still small and is less likely to have spread to other parts of the body. This often means a better chance for a cure, especially if the cancer can be removed with surgery.

A good example of the importance of finding cancer early is melanoma skin cancer. It can be easy to remove if it has not grown deep into the skin. The 5-year survival rate (percentage of people who live at least 5 years after diagnosis) at this stage is around 97%. Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate drops below 20%.

Sometimes people ignore symptoms. Maybe they don’t know that the symptoms could mean something is wrong. Or they might be frightened by what the symptoms could mean and don’t want to get or can’t afford to get medical help. Some symptoms, such as tiredness or coughing, are more likely caused by something other than cancer. Symptoms can seem unimportant, especially if there’s an obvious cause or the problem only lasts a short time. In the same way, a person may reason that a symptom like a breast lump is probably a cyst that will go away by itself. But no symptom should be ignored or overlooked, especially if it has lasted a long time or is getting worse.

Most likely, any symptoms you may have will not be caused by cancer, but it’s important to have them checked out, just in case. If cancer is not the cause, a doctor can help figure out what is and treat it, if needed.

Sometimes, it’s possible to find cancer before you have symptoms. The American Cancer Society and other health groups recommend cancer-related check-ups and certain tests for people even though they have no symptoms. This helps find certain cancers early, before symptoms start. For more information on early detection tests, see our document American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. But keep in mind, even if you have these recommended tests, it’s still important to see a doctor if you have any symptoms. What are some general signs and symptoms of cancer?

You should know some of the general signs and symptoms of cancer. But remember, having any of these does not mean that you have cancer—many other things cause these signs and symptoms, too. If you have any of these symptoms and they last for a long time or get worse, please see a doctor to find out what’s going on. Unexplained weight loss

Most people with cancer will lose weight at some point. When you lose weight for no known reason, it’s called an unexplained weight loss. An unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be the first sign of cancer. This happens most often with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus (swallowing tube), or lung. Fever

Fever is very common with cancer, but it more often happens after cancer has spread from where it started. Almost all patients with cancer will have fever at some time, especially if the cancer or its treatment affects the immune system. (This can make it harder for the body to fight infection.) Less often, fever may be an early sign of cancer, such as blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma. Fatigue

Fatigue is extreme tiredness that does not get better with rest. It may be an important symptom as cancer grows. It may happen early, though, in some cancers, like leukemia. Some colon or stomach cancers can cause blood loss that’s not obvious. This is another way cancer can cause fatigue. Pain

Pain may be an early symptom with some cancers like bone cancers or testicular cancer. A headache that does not go away or get better with treatment may be a symptom of a brain tumor. Back pain can be a symptom of cancer of the colon, rectum, or ovary. Most often, pain due to cancer means it has already spread (metastasized) from where it started. Skin changes

Along with cancers of the skin, some other cancers can cause skin changes that can be seen. These signs and symptoms include: Darker looking skin (hyperpigmentation) Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)Reddened skin (erythema)Itching (pruritis) Excessive hair growth Signs and symptoms of certain cancers

Along with the general symptoms, you should watch for certain other common signs and symptoms that could suggest cancer. Again, there may be other causes for each of these, but it’s important to see a doctor about them as soon as possible. Change in bowel habits or bladder function

Long-term constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the size of the stool may be a sign of colon cancer. Pain when passing urine, blood in the urine, or a change in bladder function (such as needing to pass urine more or less often than usual) could be related to bladder or prostate cancer. Report any changes in bladder or bowel function to a doctor. Sores that do not heal

Skin cancers may bleed and look like sores that don’t heal. A long-lasting sore in the mouth could be an oral cancer. This should be dealt with right away, especially in people who smoke, chew tobacco, or often drink alcohol. Sores on the penis or vagina may either be signs of infection or an early cancer, and should be seen by a health professional. White patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue

White patches inside the mouth and white spots on the tongue may be leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is a pre-cancerous area that’s caused by frequent irritation. It’s often caused by smoking or other tobacco use. People who smoke pipes or use oral or spit tobacco are at high risk for leukoplakia. If it’s not treated, leukoplakia can become mouth cancer. Any long-lasting mouth changes should be checked by a doctor or dentist right away. Unusual bleeding or discharge

Unusual bleeding can happen in early or advanced cancer. Coughing up blood in the sputum (phlegm) may be a sign of lung cancer. Blood in the stool (which can look like very dark or black stool) could be a sign of colon or rectal cancer. Cancer of the cervix or the endometrium (lining of the uterus) can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding. Blood in the urine may be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer. A bloody discharge from the nipple may be a sign of breast cancer. Thickening or lump in the breast or other parts of the body

Many cancers can be felt through the skin. These cancers occur mostly in the breast, testicle, lymph nodes (glands), and the soft tissues of the body. A lump or thickening may be an early or late sign of cancer and should be reported to a doctor, especially if you’ve just found it or notice it has grown in size. Keep in mind that some breast cancers show up as red or thickened skin rather than the expected lump. Indigestion or trouble swallowing

Indigestion or swallowing problems that don’t go away may be signs of cancer of the esophagus (the swallowing tube that goes to the stomach), stomach, or pharynx (throat). But like most symptoms on this list, they are most often caused by something other than cancer. Recent change in a wart or mole or any new skin change

Any wart, mole, or freckle that changes color, size, or shape, or that loses its sharp border should be seen by a doctor right away. Any other skin changes should be reported, too. A skin change may be a melanoma which, if found early, can be treated successfully. Nagging cough or hoarseness

A cough that does not go away may be a sign of lung cancer. Hoarseness can be a sign of cancer of the voice box (larynx) or thyroid gland. Other symptoms

The signs and symptoms listed above are the more common ones seen with cancer, but there are many others that are not listed here. If you notice any major changes in the way your body works or the way you feel – especially if it lasts for a long time or gets worse – let a doctor know. If it has nothing to do with cancer, the doctor can find out more about what’s going on and, if needed, treat it. If it is cancer, you’ll give yourself the chance to have it treated early, when treatment works best. To learn more More information from your American Cancer Society

We have selected some related information that may also be helpful to you. Many of these materials can be read on our Web site, www.cancer.org. Free copies can be ordered from our toll-free number, 1-800-227-2345.General information about cancer and cancer prevention

What Is Cancer? (also in Spanish)

American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer (also in Spanish)

American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention (also in Spanish)

Prevention Checklist for Men

Prevention Checklist for Women

Is Cancer Contagious? (also in Spanish)Tests for cancer

Imaging (Radiology) Tests

Testing Biopsy and Cytology Specimens for Cancer Living with cancer

Questions People Ask About Cancer (also in Spanish)

After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families (also in Spanish)National organizations and Web sites*

Along with the American Cancer Society, other sources of information and support include:

Cancer Care
Toll-free number: 1-800-813-4673
Web site: www.cancercare.org Offers cancer information and support to people with cancer, caregivers, and loved ones

National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Toll-free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER)
TTY: 1-800-332-8615
Web site: www.cancer.gov Provides accurate, up-to-date cancer information to patients, their families, and the general public. *Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society.

No matter who you are, we can help. Contact us anytime, day or night, for cancer-related information and support. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.



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