Eight Breast Cancer Symptoms: When To Worry
Sara Suchy | Sept 27, 2012
Reviewed by Todd Gersten, MD on Dec 10, 2017
Not all breast cancer symptoms are cause for alarm. Learn which symptoms demand immediate attention and which are probably no cause for alarm.
You’re in the shower and feel a lump in your breast. First step: Don’t panic! Most abnormalities that are felt in the breast are totally benign (i.e. a cyst) and have many causes. If you are pre-menopausal, wait through a menstrual cycle to see if the lump is hormone-related. If not, it’s best to call the doctor right away to have it checked.
A lump in the armpit is almost always a swollen lymph node. However, since the armpit is quite close to the breast so treat an armpit lump the same as you would a lump in your breast. If you’re pre-menopausal, wait a menstrual cycle and see if it goes away. If you’re post-menopausal, see a doctor right away.
In very rare cases, a rash on the breast may indicate Inflammatory breast cancer, a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. In most cases, however, a rash is nothing more than a skin problem of some kind, especially if it’s on both breasts. Consider any recent changes in shower gel or laundry detergent before you worry.
If you experience an itchy breast and it feels like a surface itch, it is probably some kind of skin irritation. If it is a more internal itch that you cannot scratch it may be caused by nerve issues or hormones related to your menstrual cycle. If the itching persists, see a doctor as it could be due to mastitis or inflammatory breast cancer.
Hormonal changes may cause a discharge from one or both nipples. If you notice the discharge when you squeeze your nipples; and if it’s milky, light green or light yellow, it is most likely hormonal. If the discharge is only in one nipple and happens without squeezing your nipple; and if it’s sticky and clear or brown/red, then get it checked by a doctor.
Nipple pain, redness, scaliness, oozing
If both nipples are irritated, you probably have a skin condition, such as eczema. If the symptoms are in just one nipple, it could be a very rare type of breast cancer called Paget’s Disease of the Breast. Get your condition checked: ask for further tests to rule out cancer if your “eczema” does not respond to treatment.
General breast pain is very rarely related to breast cancer. Breast pain will come and go throughout the course of a menstrual cycle as hormones change. Breast size may also change and is no cause for alarm. If the pain is steady or comes and goes without any pattern, it should be checked by a doctor, especially if accompanied by obvious breast changes, redness, rash and itching.
Vibrating or tingling breast
One of the more perplexing sensations women feel is a vibrating or tingling in their breast. Some women describe it as feeling like the vibrate mode on a cell phone, while others describe it as the sensation of an arm or leg going to sleep. The good news is, that sensation is almost never associated with breast cancer.
When you see a change in your breast, it can be difficult to separate normal concern for your health from unwarranted panic about cancer. Remember, your risk of getting breast cancer is very low. Breast cancer fear is real, but can be broken down and dealt with. Get to know your breasts and understand the changes you might see. Knowledge is power.