In many cases, women spot signs of breast cancer outside of regular breast cancer screenings. In fact, paying attention to changes in your breasts during regular activities like showering or getting dressed, along with getting your annual mammogram if you’re age 40 or over, is one of the best ways to increase your chances of finding breast cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat.
“Any change you notice that is different to you, you should get it checked out,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center. “It’s always better to get something checked out and find it’s nothing than to ignore it.”
Any subtle change in your breasts should be taken seriously, but here are some symptoms that might be a sign of breast cancer.
11 signs of breast cancer
Redness. If you notice any redness on the skin of your breasts that lasts for more than a few days, get it checked out.
Lump in the breast. You may not see a lump, but if you feel a new or changing lump in your breast, it’s time to talk to you doctor.
Swelling. Pay attention to any swelling in your breasts that does not go away quickly.
Lump in armpit. Lumps in your armpit can be a sign of breast cancer, so be aware of any changes here.
Orange-peel texture. If the texture of the skin on your breast starts to change, it can be a sign of breast cancer. In some cases, breast skin can start to feel bumpy like the texture of an orange.
Dimpling. Breast skin can also dimple if there is a problem, so if you see signs of this, call your doctor.
Breast cancer can also sometimes show up as changes in the way your nipples look. Here are some signs to watch for:
Discharge. Nipple discharge should be check out by a doctor.
Pulling in. Talk to your doctor if your nipple starts to pull in or appear inverted.
Change in direction. You might notice your nipple starts to change direction. If you see this, get it checked out.
Ulcer. Nipple changes can appear in the form of an ulcer or sore on the nipple.
Scaliness. The skin on your nipple might change from being smooth to being scaly or rough.
How to do a breast self-exam
Large studies have shown that women most often find breast changes by paying attention during normal daily activities, like showering, scratching or getting dressed.
“There is no right or wrong way to check your breasts for changes that may be related to breast cancer,” says Bevers. “Research has shown that practicing breast awareness is more effective than learning a specific self-exam technique.”
A formal self-exam is more likely to lead to false positives – that is, mistakes that suggest breast cancer when it is not there. And, formal self-exams also increase stress and anxiety for women.
“Women worried they weren’t doing it correctly or at the right time of the month,” says Bevers. “With breast awareness, it’s just about being aware of how your breasts normally look and feel. If you one day go, ‘Whoa, I’ve never felt that before, what is that?’ pay attention to it, explore and then call your doctor.”