Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Do You Know The Signs?

A sharp pain in your breast, possibly with some tenderness, can be scary. It may have you wondering if it could be something serious. A breast lump is often the thing women — and even men — notice that spurs a visit to their doctor. While early stage breast cancer shows no symptoms, timely detection can turn breast cancer into a survivor’s tale.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:1

  • A lump in the breast – the most common first sign. Sometimes the lump is seen on a screening mammogram before it can be felt
    • The lump is present all the time and does not get smaller or go away with the menstrual cycle
    • The lump may feel like it is attached to the skin or chest wall and cannot be moved
    • The lump may feel hard, irregular in shape and very different from the rest of the breast tissue
    • The lump may be tender, but it is usually not painful
    • Pain is more often a symptom of a non-cancerous (benign) condition, but should be checked by a doctor
  • A lump in the armpit (axilla)
    • Sometimes small, hard lumps in the armpit may be a sign that breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Although these lumps are often painless, they may be tender
  • Changes in breast shape or size
  • Skin changes
    • The skin of the breast may become dimpled or puckered. A thickening and dimpling of the skin is sometimes called orange peel skin, or peau d’orange.
    • Redness, swelling and increased warmth (signs that look like an infection)
  • Itching of the breast or nipple
    • Itchiness is often not relieved by ointments, creams or other medications
  • Nipple changes
    • Some people’s nipples are always pointed inward (inverted). Normal nipples that suddenly become inverted should be checked by a doctor
    • Discharge from the nipples can be caused by many conditions, most of which are non-cancerous (benign)
    • Discharge from one nipple may be a sign of breast cancer, especially if it appears without squeezing the nipple (is spontaneous) and is blood-stained
    • Crusting, ulcers or scaling on the nipple may be a sign of some rare types of breast cancer, such as Paget disease of the nipple

How do I check my breasts? Check all parts of your breast, your armpits and up to your collarbone for changes. Check for: a change in size or shape; redness or a rash on the skin and/or around the nipple; discharge (liquid) that comes from the nipple without squeezing; a swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone; a lump or thickening that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue; a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like orange skin); your nipple becoming inverted (pulled in) or changing its position or shape; and constant pain in your breast or your armpit.In some breast cancer diagnoses, late signs and symptoms occur as the cancer grows larger and has already spread to other parts of the body, including other organs (via Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support).

These signs and symptoms are defined as ‘advanced’ breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer.

Late signs and symptoms of advanced or metastatic breast cancer include:2

  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Double vision
  • Muscle weakness

More resources for signs and symptoms of breast cancer

To find screening programs near you, click here.

Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support

An overview of common signs and symptoms of breast cancer for men.


  1. Canadian Cancer Society
  2. Canadian Cancer Society