10 subtle signs of breast cancer

ShutterstockCatching breast cancer early can make a difference.

A diagnosis of breast cancer can be terrifying. According to the CDC, it’s the most common cancer in American women of any race or ethnicity.

Though the statistics might be scary, catching breast cancer early can make a real difference in the success of treatment.

Here are a few subtle signs of breast cancer to be aware of.


You notice a lump under your arm or on your collarbone.

Thomas Foldes/ShutterstockDoctors sometimes urge women to do breast self-exams to hunt for potentially problematic lumps.

Though many women know to check for lumps in their actual breast tissue, cancerous lumps can sometimes develop under the arm or in the armpit. According to Breast Cancer Care, women should check under their arms and even around their collarbones for signs of swelling or lumps.

Though it can be scary to find a lump anywhere around your breasts, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) advised that most breast lumps are actually caused by other medical conditions such as fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. It’s always better to be on the safe side though, so get any lumps checked by a doctor as soon as possible.


You find a dimpled area on your breast.

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesYou might notice a slight puckering.

According to Breast Cancer Care, one subtle sign of breast cancer is a slight dimpling or puckering in the skin of your breast. This can sometimes look like the skin of an orange and may or may not be red or irritated.

If you notice this kind of change in your breast skin, it’s important to get it checked out by a medical professional immediately.


Your nipples look red or flakey.

pruit phatsrivong/ShutterstockRed or flaky nipples could also be caused by tight bras.

According to the CDC, red or flaking nipples are one possible warning sign of breast cancer. Flaky skin can appear on the areola itself or on the surrounding breast skin.

Red or dry nipples can also be caused by things like tight bras, rough shirt material, or irritating skin care products. If you haven’t changed anything about your routine, get your breasts checked by a doctor.


You have any sort of discharge from your nipple.

The appearance of any type of breast discharge is a good reason for a doctor visit. According to Breast Cancer Care, liquid that emerges from your nipple with or without the nipple being pressed can be one sign of breast cancer. Unless you are breastfeeding, any experience of nipple discharge or blood should be evaluated by a professional.


The size of one breast changes subtly.

STXfilmsYou might notice your breasts either shrink or become enlarged.

Any noticeable change in the size of your breasts could be a warning sign of breast cancer, according to the CDC. This includes a slight shrinking or subtle enlargement of one or both breasts.

If you notice that your breasts are changing shape and the shift doesn’t seem to be related to your menstrual cycle, have your situation evaluated by a medical professional.


The skin of your breast is irritated.

Marco Verch/FlickrThis could also be caused by an irritating lotion.

Any irritation or redness on your breast skin shouldn’t be disregarded. According to the CDC, irritation or rash-like symptoms on your breasts might be a sign of cancer.

Because skin irritation can have so many causes (e.g. a food intolerance, a new lotion, harsh laundry detergent), it’s important to get any concerning rashes or irritation checked out by a doctor.


Part of your breast seems thicker or firmer than usual.

Sometimes it can be hard to discern a lump from surrounding healthy breast tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, you should consider seeing a doctor if part of your breast feels thicker or more firm than usual. This is especially concerning if the other breast is unaffected or only part of one breast feels swollen.


One breast seems to have changed shape.

Zhenikeyev / iStockSmall changes in breast shape can indicate breast cancer.

Breasts change shape over time due to a number of factors, including age, pregnancy, and hormonal shifts. However, the American Cancer Society recommended that if you notice that one breast suddenly looks different than the other or has taken on a shape that you haven’t seen before, you should talk to your doctor about being screened for breast cancer.


Your nipple has pulled inward or become flatter.

Justin Sullivan / GettyImagesAsk to be screened by a doctor if you notice your nipple is pulled inward.

Most women have a good idea of what their nipples normally look and feel like. According to the American Cancer Society, you should ask to be screened for cancer if you notice that one of your nipples has become much flatter that normal or has even pulled inward towards your chest.

Though nipples do change shape depending on factors such as temperature, arousal, and pregnancy, it’s best to be on the safe side and be evaluated by a professional if you notice any lingering changes.


You have pain in any area of your breast.

Getty ImagesAny breast pain that isn’t associated with your menstrual cycle should get checked out.

According to the American Cancer Society, most breast cancer lumps tend to be painless and hard with irregular edges.

There are, however, instances in which the breast area can be painful or tender to the touch. This is why you should definitely get checked by a doctor if you detect any tenderness or pain in your breasts that doesn’t seem to be related to your menstrual cycle.

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