Symptoms of Breast Cancer – Can You Recognise the 6 Most Common Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Symptoms of breast cancer are by and large, pretty non-specific. The vagueness of these symptoms makes it very difficult to decide, if you do find a problem in your breast, whether or not you do actually have a serious problem.

The six most common symptoms of breast cancer, which are all explained below, are:

  1. A lump in the breast
  2. Bleeding from the nipple
  3. Dimpling or tethering of the skin of the breast
  4. Retraction of the nipple
  5. Alteration of the shape of the breast
  6. A rash on the nipple

The most common of these symptoms is a lump in the breast – and this is why this particular symptom is in the top position. But of course every lump in the breast is not malignant – far from it in reality – making a lump probably the most unhelpful and non-specific of all of the symptoms of breast cancer. Only about 10% of lumps in the breast actually turn out to be malignant.

There are only 3 commonly found lumps and so if you get a breast lump it is almost certainly going to be one of these: a Fibroadenoma, a cyst and of course a cancer in the breast.

The Triple Assessment is the routine your surgeon uses, in order to decide which one of these 3 lumps you actually have. The Triple Assessment has 3 parts as the name implies:

  1. An examination by the doctor
  2. Imaging – (mammography and breast ultrasound)
  3. A breast biopsy

The second of the symptoms of breast cancer is bleeding from the nipple. Bleeding from the nipple may be due to pre-invasive cancerous cells in the ducts or ‘pipes’ of the breast but actually this is one of the rarer symptoms and statistically only about 8% or less of women with bleeding from the nipple will actually have a breast cancer.

The next of the symptoms of breast cancer is dimpling or tethering of the skin. Of the 6 symptoms, this is actually one of the most accurate. If you are over 50 years of age and you notice that the skin is attached to a lump – you can pinch the skin over the lump and you will see that it does not move easily over it, or it dimples – then this is a worrying sign. Another way of showing that this IS one of the symptoms of a cancer in the breast, is to raise your arms above your head in front of a mirror and then slowly lower them. If you see that the skin gets caught, or tethered over or near the lump as you move your arms – remember to do this slowly – then this is one of the symptoms of a breast cancer.

The next symptom is retraction of the nipple. Simple nipple INVERSION is very common – this is where the nipple, instead of sticking outwards is folded inwards. You can tell that this is NOT one of the symptoms of breast cancer as benign (non-cancerous) nipple inversion is ‘slit-like’ in appearance. Nipple retraction, one of the more likely symptoms of breast cancer, is where the nipple and surrounding skin (the areola) is pulled backwards by the cancer. This is NOT slit-like in appearance.

The next of the symptoms is alteration of the shape of the breast. This again is fairly non-specific as many benign or non-cancerous lumps can also deform the shape of the breast. But if you see a COMBINATION of tethering, dimpling or nipple retraction with an alteration in the shape of the breast then you should be highly suspicious that you do indeed have a cancer in the breast.

The last of the six most common symptoms of a breast cancer is a rash on the nipple. This is a condition called Paget’s Disease. Paget’s Disease (named after Sir James Paget) is an ulcerating and destructive or erosive condition of the NIPPLE, although it may also extend onto the aureola – the darker skin around the nipple. Paget’s Disease of the Nipple is due to the presence of an underlying cancer in the breast and the diagnosis is confirmed by a biopsy of the ulcerated area. Paget’s is one of the most clear-cut symptoms of breast cancer.

Paget’s should not be confused with a scaly rash of the aureola where the nipple is normal – or ‘spared’. A scaly rash on the areola ONLY, with a normal nipple is usually eczema (dermatitis), a condition mostly treated by simple steroid creams.