Breast Cancer Symptoms: When to Worry, When to Wait

by PJ Hamel Patient Expert

You’ve found a lump in your breast. Or there’s swelling in your armpit. Perhaps your nipples are itchy, you’ve got a stubborn rash, or your breasts are sore and painful.

Could this be cancer?

Luckily, the answer to that scary question is, “Probably not.”

Breast Changes Seldom Signal Cancer

The vast majority of breast issues don’t involve cancer. From normal changes involved with your monthly cycle, to harmless (though potentially painful) cysts, to simple infections and skin rashes, changes you notice in your breasts can be irritating and painful, but rarely are they cancer symptoms.

Still, the No. 1 rule for maintaining breast health is this: Notice any changes, track them, and decide whether you need to see a doctor right away, or whether you can wait and see if they resolve themselves.

The following articles will help you identify what your particular symptom or symptoms might mean; and help you determine whether to see a doctor right away, or whether it’s OK to wait awhile and see if the issue resolves itself on its own.

Are You Afraid You Might Have Breast Cancer?

First, some general articles dealing with breast cancer fears. If you think you might have a breast cancer symptom — and you’re scared to death — the following posts will help you calm down enough to look at your situation realistically.

If You Think You Might Have Breast Cancer, Read This

Is This Normal? A Teen Guide to Breast Development

Dear Sister: A Message to Young (Under-20) Readers

Symptom Checker

Breast changes can involve anything from discovery of a lump or significant swelling to simply “a funny feeling.” Check out your symptom in the articles below.


Breast Lump FAQS

Armpit Lumps: Are They Serious?

Noncancerous Breast Lumps: Symptoms and Treatment

Pain or tingling

Understanding Different Types of Breast Pain

The Strange Case of the Vibrating Breast

Itchiness, swelling, and rashes

What Can I Do About My Itchy Breasts?

Inflammatory breast cancer

If you’ve been reading up on symptoms and you suspect inflammatory breast cancer:

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Awareness: Breast Cancer Doesn’t Always Start with a

Rash or Inflammatory Breast Cancer – When Should I Panic?

Nipple changes

Nipple Issues: When to Worry, When to Wait

Nipple Discharge: When Should I Worry?

When to See a Doctor

At some point you may decide you need to see a doctor. Here’s some helpful information about various ways to screen for breast cancer – and how to pay for them.

Your First Mammogram: Easy as 1-2-3

FAQS: Having an Ultrasound

No Health Insurance? Breast Cancer Screening on a Budget

Guide to Free Mammograms for Underserved Women

PJ Hamel
Meet Our Writer
PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via