Breast cancer may not always cause symptoms. In some women, it is found during a screening test. If you have these, do not think it is because of cancer. Other, less serious conditions, such as a breast cyst, can cause symptoms. But, it's still important to talk about them with your doctor. Finding and treating the cause early will improve your chances for a cure.

Breast Changes

The most common symptom is a painless lump or thickening in or near the breast, or underarm area. In some women, these changes can cause pain. The lump may shrink or go away, but it does not mean the problem is gone. Any changes in the breast should be reported to your doctor.

Other changes to be aware of:

  • A change in the shape or size of the breast
  • Nipple discharge or tenderness
  • Inverted nipple
  • Ridges or pitting of the breast—it may look like the skin of an orange
  • A change in the way the skin of the breast, nipple, or areola (dark area surrounding the nipple), looks or feels—look for warmth, redness, swelling, or scaling
  • A sore or ulcer on the breast that does not heal

Later Stage Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain or a feeling of a mass
  • Less hunger and unplanned weight loss
  • Feeling very tired and having little or no energy
  • Belly or back pain—caused by pressure on nearby nerves
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling in the legs—may be caused by a blockage in the veins or lymphatic system
  • Bone pain

Breast cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated January 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.

Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated November 26, 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.

Breast cancer signs and symptoms. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated September 22, 2017. Accessed March 11, 2019.

General information about breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated February 6, 2019. Accessed March 11, 2019.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/11/2019