Breast cancer : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

Early breast cancer usually does not cause symptoms. This is why regular breast exams are important. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Breast lump or lump in the armpit that is hard, has uneven edges, and usually does not hurt
  • Change in the size, shape, or feel of the breast or nipple — for example, you may have redness, dimpling, or puckering that looks like the skin of an orange
  • Fluid coming from the nipple — may be bloody, clear to yellow, green, and look like pus

Men get breast cancer, too. Symptoms include breast lump and breast pain and tenderness.

Symptoms of advanced breast cancer may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Breast pain or discomfort
  • Skin ulcers
  • Swelling of one arm (next to breast with cancer)
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis & Tests

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and risk factors, and then perform a physical exam, which includes both breasts, armpits, and the neck and chest area. Additional tests may include:

  • Mammography to help identify the breast lump
  • Breast MRI to help better identify the breast lump
  • Breast ultrasound to show whether the lump is solid or fluid-filled
  • Breast biopsy, needle aspiration, or breast lump removal to remove all or part of the breast lump for closer examination by a laboratory specialist
  • CT scan
  • Sentinal lymph node biopsy
  • PET scan

If your doctor learns that you do have breast cancer, additional tests will be done to see if the cancer has spread. This is called staging. Staging helps guide future treatment and follow-up and gives you some idea of what to expect in the future.

Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV. The higher the staging number, the more advanced the cancer.


Review Date : 12/27/2009
Reviewed By : David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital.

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