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Recognize the signs of breast cancer

A woman feels her armpit along the line of her bra.

Oct. 2, 2023—Finding breast cancer early can make it easier to treat. That's why it's crucial to keep up with screening mammograms. But, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), some signs of breast cancer may be easier to spot at home. The key: Know what's normal for your body—and ask your doctor to check out any changes.

Symptoms to watch out for

Pay attention to how your breasts feel when you shower or put on a bra. Over time, you'll know what's normal for you—and what may signal cancer or another health problem.

According to the ACS, the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should let your doctor know right away if you notice:

  • A lump in the breast. Breast lumps come in many different sizes and shapes. Some may be hard and painless, and others may be painful.
  • Nipple changes or discharge. If your nipple turns inward or leaks anything other than milk, let your doctor know right away.
  • Swelling in the breast. Some cancers can cause this reaction before it's possible to feel a lump.
  • A lump or swelling around your collarbone or armpit. These may be a sign that cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Skin changes. Redness, dryness, flaking, and darkening or thickening skin on the breast or nipple can be a sign of cancer. So can dimpled, thickened, puckered or "orange-peel" skin.
  • Pain. While most cancers don't cause pain, some do. If breast pain or tenderness is severe or persists, get tested for cancer—or other conditions that can be treated.

Get answers

Keep in mind that these symptoms don't mean you have breast cancer. In fact, most breast lumps or changes are not caused by cancer. Breast changes may be caused by a wide range of conditions, including infections, irritation, hormone changes and cysts.

Your doctor can help you find out for sure—and offer peace of mind. So can getting regular mammograms—which can help detect cancer in its earliest stages. Already scheduled yours? Find out what to expect—and how to make your screening more comfortable.

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