A breast lump or mass is one possible sign of breast cancer. Changes to the skin on and around the breast, such as dimpling, swelling, and nipple discharge, can also be a symptom of breast cancer.

An illustration depicting the symptoms of breast cancer other than a lump.Share on Pinterest
1867641-What signs of breast cancer are there other than a lump Illustration by Maya Chastain

In some cases, even if breast cancer does not cause any symptoms, a cancerous mass may still be found on a female’s routine mammogram. Screening for breast cancer, as recommended by a doctor, can help detect this condition in its earliest and most treatable stage.

Breast cancer is more common in females. However, males are also at risk of developing breast cancer.

In this article, we discuss some of the potential signs and symptoms of breast cancer that may occur without a noticeable lump in the breast.

All of these symptoms can also have a noncancerous underlying cause. However, people with these symptoms should speak with a doctor in case tests are necessary to check for both noncancerous and cancerous conditions.

Breast cancer can cause changes and inflammation in skin cells that can lead to texture changes. Examples of these texture changes include scaly skin around the nipple and areola, as though the skin is sunburned or extremely dry, and skin thickening in any part of the breast.

These changes may also cause itching, which people often associate with breast cancer, although it is not common.

Skin changes such as nipple scaling may be symptomatic of a rare breast cancer type called Paget’s disease.

Skin thickening and texture changes may be consistent with inflammatory breast cancer.

Texture changes can also occur as a result of benign skin conditions, including dermatitis and eczema.

A person may observe discharge from the nipple, which can be thin or thick and range in color from clear to milky to yellow, green, or bloody. The discharge typically comes from one nipple. However, it can come from both nipples if both breasts are cancerous.

It is normal for people who are breastfeeding to have a milky discharge from the nipples, but it is advisable to contact a doctor about any other nipple discharge.

Although most nipple discharge is noncancerous, it can signify breast cancer in some people.

More concerning nipple discharge tends to be bloody, affects one nipple, and is spontaneous.

Other possible reasons for nipple discharge include birth control, some medications, and some infections.

Learn more about the causes of nipple discharge in males and females here.

Skin dimpling can sometimes be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer.

Cancer cells can cause a buildup of lymph fluid in the breast that leads to swelling as well as dimpling or pitted skin. It is essential that anyone who notices skin dimpling speaks with a doctor.

Doctors call this change in the skin’s appearance “peau d’orange” because the dimpled skin resembles the surface of an orange.

This may also be accompanied by the onset of erythema or edema of the breast (redness and swelling).

Lymph nodes are small, rounded collections of immune system tissue that filter fluid and capture potentially harmful cells. These include bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

If a cancer cell leaves the breast, the first place it typically travels to is the underarm lymph node region on the same side as the affected breast. This can lead to swelling in this area.

In addition to swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, a person may notice them around the collarbone. They usually feel like small, firm, swollen lumps and may be tender to the touch.

However, lymph tissue may also change due to breast infections or other completely unrelated illnesses.

A person should speak with a doctor about these changes so that they can identify a potential cause.

Breast cancer can cause changes in skin cells that lead to feelings of pain, tenderness, and discomfort in the breast. If a lump is present, it is not painful.

Although breast cancer is often painless, it is important not to ignore any signs or symptoms that could be due to breast cancer.

Some people may describe the pain as a burning and tender sensation.

Learn more about what breast cancer feels like here.

Breast cancer can cause cell changes behind the nipple. These changes can result in the nipple inverting and reversing inward into the breast, or it may look different in terms of its size.

The appearance of the nipples can often alter during ovulationor other parts of the menstrual cycle, but people should contact a doctor about any new nipple changes.

Breast cancer can cause the entire breast or an area of the breast to swell. There may not be a distinct lump after this swelling, but the breast can be different in size than the other breast.

Although it is possible for people to have breasts that are slightly different in size at all times, this swelling would cause a change from their usual breast size.

The skin may also feel tight due to the swelling.

Most people have breasts that are not the same size as each other, which is normal. However, if one breast increases in size without explanation, it may be a sign of breast cancer.

Although changes in the size of the breast can be a symptom of any type of breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute states that a rapid increase in breast size could be an indication of inflammatory breast cancer. This is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.

If someone notices that either or both of their breasts have increased in size, they should consider contacting a doctor.

People should not panic or be fearful when they notice breast changes. Aging, changes in hormone levels, and other factors can lead to breast changes throughout a person’s lifetime.

However, people should be proactive about their health and visit a doctor to determine the cause of any breast symptoms.

Each of the nine changes listed above can warrant a trip to the doctor, especially if these changes do not seem to relate to one of the following:

A doctor can evaluate the symptoms, examine the affected breast or breasts, and recommend further studies if necessary. They may suggest a mammogram, ultrasound, other imaging tests, or bloodwork to rule out infection or other potential causes.

There are a number of other reasons a person may experience breast pain, which include:

  • bras that do not fit correctly
  • hormonal changes
  • mastitis
  • certain medications
  • chest wall pain that appears to come from the breast
  • sprains in the back, neck, or shoulder
  • costochondritis, which is inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone
  • scar tissue

Learn about 11 common causes of breast pain here.

Breast changes throughout a person’s life are normal and can happen for many reasons. These include:

  • Menopause: This can cause breasts to become smaller and lumpy. It can also cause lumps to disappear as the breast tissue becomes less dense and more fatty.
  • Menstrual cycle: Breasts may feel swollen, tender, or painful, and lumps can appear. These changes occur before menstruation.
  • Pregnancy: Milk glands increase in number and size and so can cause lumps.
  • Breastfeeding: This can cause mastitis, which may make the breast feel warm and tender, as well as red and lumpy.

Below are some commonly asked questions about breast cancer and skin changes.

How can a person check themselves for breast cancer?

To check for signs of breast cancer, it is important for a person to be familiar with how their breasts typically look. This means that they will notice any changes and be able to report them to a healthcare professional.

Those with a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer may wish to perform a breast self-exam. This can help a person keep track of how their breasts look and feel.

What are the five warning signs of breast cancer?

There are more than five warning signs of breast cancer.

The most common symptom is a new lump or mass in the breast. Other symptoms include breast swelling, skin dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, nipple discharge, and swollen lymph nodes under the arm.

A person may also experience skin thickening, flaking, or discoloration.

What does breast cancer feel like in the beginning?

A person may feel a solid, painless lump with irregular edges in the breast. A person may also experience other symptoms, such as skin changes, breast or nipple pain, and swelling.

What does breast cancer pain feel like?

Most breast cancers do not cause nipple or breast pain. However, some people do experience pain. Similarly, most breast cancer lumps are painless, but they can sometimes be tender or painful.

What does the skin look like with breast cancer?

When a person has breast cancer, the skin surrounding their breast may look dimpled, swollen, or discolored.

Can breast cancer cause skin conditions?

According to a 2017 study, there is a potential increased risk of psoriasis in patients with breast cancer. This has mainly been attributed to skin trauma due to surgery or radiotherapy-induced skin reactions, as opposed to being a direct result of the cancer.

Also, a rare breast cancer type called Paget’s disease can cause a rash that looks like eczema but is, in fact, not the skin condition.

Breast cancer can cause signs and symptoms that include changes to the skin on and around the breast.

While many conditions can potentially cause breast changes, including cysts, infections, eczema, and dermatitis, a person should not automatically rule out breast cancer.

Seeing a doctor for evaluation and diagnosis can help determine whether or not any breast changes are cause for concern.

Bezzy Breast Cancer provides people with access to an online breast cancer community, where users can connect with others for advice and support. It’s also full of inspiring stories and helpful articles.

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