9 Breast Cancer Symptoms That Aren't Lumps

While they may be your first thought when it comes to breast cancer symptoms, lumps aren't the only sign that something may be wrong.

We all know that an unusual lump can be a red flag when it comes to breast cancer, but did you know there are other breast cancer symptoms you're probably less familiar with, like changes in the skin or nipple? Knowing what to look for can make all the difference in getting diagnosed early, especially since about one in every six women with breast cancer sees her doctor with a symptom other than a lump, according to research presented at a 2016 National Cancer Research Institute conference.

In this video, we're highlighting the key signs and symptoms of breast cancer that aren't lumps.

Breast changes to watch for

Any sudden changes in the breast can signal something is up, says the National Cancer Institute (NCI). That include new developments in its size or shape. Unusual breast or nipple pain can also warrant a checkup, as does a nipple that suddenly starts to turn inward, notes the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lots of women don't realize that the skin on the breast can offer important health information, too. If the skin gets red, scaly, thick, pitted, ridged, or bumpy, make sure to follow up with your health care provider, says NCI. Really, any skin irritation or dimpling of breast skin ought be taken seriously—see your doctor ASAP, the CDC advises.

The same goes for any nipple discharge (other than breast milk), says NCI. And if you've having any swelling, warmth, or tenderness, those can be signs of breast cancer as well, especially an aggressive type known as inflammatory breast cancer, explains the Mayo Clinic.

Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or around your collarbone should also be examined, too, since breast cancer can spread to these areas before you even feel a lump, says the American Cancer Society (ACS).

What do these breast changes mean?

Of course, these symptoms don't always signal breast cancer. In fact, they may simply have to do with where you are in your menstrual cycle, says NCI. Since breasts can feel lumpier or more tender before or during your period, your doctor may want to schedule a return visit at another point in your cycle.

Getting to know what your breast normally look and feel like is an important part of breast health, says the ACS. If you notice anything unusual—whether it has to do with breast size, nipple appearance, texture, or sensitivity—talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Since many breast cancers can't be seen or felt, a screening mammogram is often the best way to detect it early, says the CDC. You'll want to talk your doctor about when and how often to get a mammogram because when caught early, breast cancer is easier to treat.

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines: As of May 2023, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that cisgender women and people assigned female at birth get mammograms every two years beginning at age 40. This is 10 years earlier than the current guidelines. More research is needed on whether people with dense breasts should have additional screenings as well as the potential benefits and risks of screening people older than 75.

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