9 Symptoms of Breast Cancer That Aren’t Lumps Every Woman Should Know
While lumps and bumps are among the most common breast cancer symptoms, there are other potential signs that you need to see a doctor, stat.
You may have seen a social media post that went viral recently, which featured one woman’s only symptom of a particularly virulent case of breast cancer—a small dimple on the edge of her breast. It turns out, that’s actually a pretty common sign of a tumor, and one that you could overlook in a monthly self exam. “Very subtle dimples underneath that could easily be missed when we’re all rushing round getting ready in a morning,” says Lisa Royle, a 44-year-old mother from Manchester, UK.
Your skin may get irritated due to a bra that fits poorly, heat rash, contact dermatitis, or other skin issues. But sometimes, it can also be a symptom of breast cancer. “When breasts have unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rashes that are new or have been there longer than expected, check with your doctor,” says Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago.
Obviously, if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant, breast discharge is likely nothing to worry about. But for other women, certain types of discharge should be checked by a doctor. “Nipple discharge that is not clear, may have a greenish or yellowish color, or is bloody can also be a symptom of breast cancer,” says Dr. Shepherd. “Especially if the discharge is spontaneous, this can be a cause of concern.”
Dark marks or unusual freckling on the skin aren’t just a sign that you should see a dermatologist—they could be a sign of a rare and more aggressive form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer. If you get a freckle that’s soon joined by more, get to a doctor quickly for a screen.
Red spots or bruises
Other signs of inflammatory breast cancer can include red splotches or bruise-like marks on the skin. If you develop these and especially if they seem to linger longer than a typical bruise, make an appointment to get checked out.
Your nipples don’t typically change shape, size or color unless you’re pregnant—or potentially, as a result of a tumor. “If you notice any changes in the appearance of your nipples, you should get screened for breast cancer,” says Dr. Shepherd. “This can include a retraction or inward turning of the nipple.”
Change in skin texture
Skin changes may fly under most women’s radar but, on your breast, they could be a sign that something is amiss, say experts. “Breast cancer can sometimes cause a change in the texture of the breast,” Dr. Shepherd says. “Watch for a reddish, pitted surface, similar to the skin of an orange. That happens because the breast tissue becoming inflamed due to cancer cells blocking the small lymph ducts inside the breast and fluid accumulation.”
Swelling or tenderness
Breast swelling or tenderness is a common issue for women during certain parts of their menstrual cycle—or even a sign of early pregnancy. And that’s exactly why women often overlook it as a warning sign of breast cancer. “If one breast seems to be particularly enlarged or swollen, you’ll want to get that checked,” Dr. Shepherd says. “If a lump is deep under the surface, you may not be able to feel it, but you could experience some swelling.”
Change in breast size or shape
Weight gain, menstrual cycle changes, and pregnancy or breastfeeding can all impact the size and shape of your breasts. But if your breasts change shape independent of these other factors—and if it occurs suddenly–it could be a sign of cancer and you should schedule a screening with your doctor.