Skip to content

5 Signs of Breast Cancer Not to Ignore

Learn five signs of breast cancer to pay attention to. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but if caught in the early stages, the survival rate is high. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, "The average 5-year survival rate for women in the United States with non-metastatic invasive breast cancer is 90%. The average 10-year survival rate for women with non-metastatic invasive breast cancer is 84%. If the invasive breast cancer is located only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate of women with this disease is 99%. Sixty-five percent (65%) of women with breast cancer are diagnosed with this stage." Like with other cancers, early detection is vital and knowing the signs can be life-saving. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares five warning signals not to ignore. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Don't Skip Your Screenings or Self Breast Exams

risk of cancer

Dr. Mitchell says, "While no one likes to think about the possibility of breast cancer, the sad reality is that it is quite common. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives. And while early detection is key to increasing the chances of survival, many breast cancer cases are not caught until the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage. This is why it is crucial for women to be aware of the risks and to get regular mammograms starting at age 45 (or sooner if there is a family history of the disease). These simple steps can help protect yourself and your loved ones from this devastating illness. While most breast lumps are benign, it's essential to be aware of the signs of cancer and to see a doctor if you notice any changes in your breasts. Here are five warning signs that you shouldn't ignore."


A Lump or Mass in the Breast

breast cancer

Dr. Mitchell explains, "A lump in the breast is a possible sign of breast cancer for several reasons. First, cancerous tumors are often hard and immobile, unlike benign cysts, which are softer and can change position. Second, cancerous tumors are often irregular in shape, while benign lumps tend to be round or oval. Finally, cancerous tumors grow larger over time, while benign lumps stay the same size or even shrink. Of course, not all breast nodes indicate cancer, but it is essential to have any suspicious lumps checked out by a doctor. Only a professional can determine whether a lump is benign or malignant. However, if you discover a lump in your breast, you must see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out any potential problems."


Change in Breast Size or Shape

Doctor examining woman in hospital. Female patient listens to mammography technologist during survey. Explains importance of breast cancer prevention

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Changes in the size or shape of the breast are potential signs of breast cancer. In most cases, these changes result from benign conditions, such as pregnancy or aging. However, they can occasionally be an early sign of cancer. Breast cancer usually develops slowly, so a sudden change or appearing over a short period is more likely to be a cause for concern. This can include swelling, dimpling, or skin that looks orange-peel-like."


Nipple Discharge

Breast cancer self check

"Nipple discharge is a common symptom of breast cancer," Dr. Mitchell says.

"It's estimated that up to one-third of all breast cancer women will experience some type of nipple discharge. The most common type of nipple discharge is called "bloody discharge." This is when the discharge contains blood or blood clots. Bloody discharge can be caused by a number of things, including a non-cancerous growth or infection. However, seeing a doctor is essential if you experience bloody discharge, as it can also be a sign of cancer. Other types of nipple discharge include clear or yellow discharge, usually benign, and greenish or brownish discharge, which could be a sign of an infection. If you experience any type of nipple discharge, you must see a doctor to determine the cause."


Nipple Pain or Tenderness

cancer patient with doctor

Dr. Mitchell shares, "According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, nipple pain or tenderness is a possible sign of breast cancer. This is because cancer can cause the tissue around the nipple to swell, making it painful to the touch. In some cases, the pain may be constant, while in others, it may only occur when the breast is touched or compressed. Additionally, the nipple may become red, inflamed, or bleed. If you experience any of these symptoms, you must see a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. While nipple pain or tenderness can be a sign of breast cancer, it's important to remember that this is not always the case. In many instances, the pain is benign and can be caused by other factors, such as an infection or inflammation. As such, seeing a doctor for a proper diagnosis is essential."


Underarm Lymph Node Swelling

breast cancer awareness women joining hands

Dr. Mitchell says, " Underarm lymph node swelling is a potential sign of breast cancer for a few reasons. First, the underarm lymph nodes are the first lymph nodes that drain the breast tissue. So if there is cancer in the breast, it is likely to spread to the underarm lymph nodes first. Second, the underarm lymph nodes are relatively close to the skin's surface, making them easier to feel than other lymph nodes. As a result, swelling in this area is more likely to be noticed than in other areas. Finally, the position of the underarm lymph nodes makes them susceptible to irritation from things like shaving or using deodorant. This irritation can cause the lymph nodes to swell even in the absence of cancer.

However, it is essential to note that not all underarm lymph node swelling is due to cancer. Other possible causes include infection or inflammation. As a result, any underarm lymph node swelling should be evaluated by a doctor to determine the cause."

Dr. Mitchell says this "doesn't constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it's to encourage discussions about health choices."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
Filed Under