Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

At first, no breast cancer symptoms may be present

Early breast cancers may not produce any symptoms. In fact, breast cancer may not cause signs and symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly, which is one reason why screening mammograms are essential.

What are early symptoms of breast cancer?

When symptoms do occur, the most common symptom is a mass or painless lump in the breast or armpit that is hard, irregular in shape, and is usually painless. Other symptoms that can occur are nipple discharge, redness or nipple retraction (inward turning), changes in the skin of the breast (such as dimpling or an orange-peel appearance), and size and shape changes or swelling of part of the breast. When present, fluid coming from the nipple may look like pus, may be green, brown, clear to yellow, or bloody. Breast pain can occur but is usually a late symptom. Symptoms of breast cancers are similar in younger, premenopausal women and in older women (postmenopausal or over about 50 years of age).

Not all of these signs and symptoms mean that a cancer is present, but should be reported to a doctor promptly to sort out the problem.

Lymph node symptoms in breast cancer

Breast cancer tends to spread through the lymphatic system to lymph nodes. Lymph nodes under the arm can be affected (causing swelling of the armpit) as can be lymph nodes around the collarbone. Though uncommon, these areas can present with swellings of the nodes even before the tumor in the breast can be felt.

What are the symptoms of advanced breast cancer?

Symptoms of advanced (metastatic or stage 4) breast cancer depend on the location of the metastases and can include weight loss, bone pain, shortness of breath, and ulceration of the skin over a cancer deposit.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

Symptoms of breast cancer in men include a lump in the breast, nipple pain and tenderness, fluid from the nipple, inversion or retraction of the nipple, and sores around the nipple. Enlargement of both breasts in males is typically not due to cancer but due to hormonal or other factors.

Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Medical Oncology


American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Overview." <>.

Stopeck, Alison T. "Breast Cancer." Sept. 16, 2014. <>.

United States. National Cancer Institute. "Breast Cancer." Sept. 26, 2012. <>.

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